Bernie and Hillary Tied in Nevada, Could Marijuana Tip the Scales?


Two recent polls have shown a big surge by Bernie Sanders, turning the Nevada caucus on Saturday into a dead heat. In such a close race, is it possible that marijuana legalization supporters could tip the scales in favor of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the more progressive candidate on federal cannabis policy?

The Washington Free Beacon poll was the first Silver State poll to show neck-and-neck race, giving both candidates 45% while a  CNN/ORC poll has Clinton up by just 1%. New national polling also shows the race neck-and-neck, with Sanders actually the better general election candidate, worrying many Clinton backers who have seen her huge lead slip away.

Marijuana legalization will be on the Nevada ballot this November and it has a great chance of passage. Voters in the state supported medical marijuana by large margins, both in 1998 (59%) and 2000 (65%). With legalization polling at 58% nationwide and the successful passage in four states and our nation’s capitol, Nevada seems poised to join the growing group of states that want to treat marijuana similar to beer and wine.

There are many reasons to support either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Most Hillary supporters seem to cite her experience as the number one reason for supporting the former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State. Most Bernie supporters cite his honesty and that he “cares about people like me.” In Nevada, the economy is the number one issue to most likely voters, according to the CNN/ORC poll and Bernie Sanders is carrying those voters 52% to 43%. Marijuana legalization could be a boon for a tourist destination like Nevada, possibly tipping the scales in favor of the anti-establishment Sanders.

Senator Sanders stated that he would vote for the Nevada marijuana legalization measure when the candidates were asked about the issue at the Democratic debate in Nevada last October: “I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country, too many lives being destroyed for nonviolent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people for smoking marijuana. I think we have to think through this War on Drugs which has done an enormous amount of damage. We need to rethink our criminal justice system and we have a lot of work to do in that area.”

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton wasn’t ready to support ending the failed and harmful policy of cannabis prohibition. The Democratic front-runner at least touted support for the medical use and the need to improve the criminal justice system, but her incremental, rather conservative approach, isn’t likely to satisfy cannabis legalization supporters.

The next president is very important for the cannabis community and Drug War reform in general. Bernie Sanders has since proposed bills banning federal for-profit private prisons and ending federal cannabis prohibition. Hillary Clinton’s call to move marijuana to Schedule II, the same federal level as cocaine simply isn’t good enough and is out-of-touch with Democratic voters.

Ending federal prohibition, will have a dramatic impact upon our entire criminal justice system as state prosecutions will decrease without federal incentives to wage war against nonviolent citizens, who happen to be disproportionately poor and people of color. If voters in Nevada want to ensure that the will of the voters is fully implemented and to dramatically improve our criminal justice system, then they should caucus for Bernie Sanders and join us that already #FeelTheBern.

Featured photo credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.