Public support for medical marijuana is reaching new highs. Why do Republican 2016 hopefuls find the idea a buzzkill?


FILE - This May 12, 2014, file photo shows former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as he speaks at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner, in New York. The Associated Press has tracked the movements and machinations of more than a dozen prospective presidential candidates including Bush. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

The legalization of medical marijuana has broad support from the American public. But Republican presidential contenders aren't so high on the idea.

Former governor Jeb Bush just came out against amending the Florida constitution to legalize medical marijuana. In a Thursday statement, the Republican said the move could reduce the number of tourists and businesses that come to the state.

“Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” Bush said. “Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts."

Bush isn't the only potential White House hopeful to express skepticism about medical marijuana. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) recently called his state's medical marijuana program "a front for legalization." However, Christie signed a bill last year that removed some hurdles keeping children from getting medical marijuana. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he supports medical marijuana -- but only non-euphoric strains, meaning he opposes the Florida ballot measure. 

Still, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said earlier this year that he was open to the idea, as long as it is strictly controlled. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) teamed up with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to spearhead a measure that would prevent the Justice Department from fighting states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Voters will decide on the Florida measure, known as Amendment 2, at the ballot box this fall. Numerous polls show Floridians overwhelmingly support allowing medical marijuana, including Amendment 2, specifically. Majorities of Republicans support it, the surveys show.

And polls show medical marijuana has broad support nationwide.  Eighty-eight percent in a January CNN-ORC poll said adults should be allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it, just 10 percent were opposed. Among Republicans, 84 percent supported medical marijuana while 14 percent were opposed.

You'd expect presidential candidates to be on board with an idea that's literally more popular than apple pie. So why isn't the crop of potential GOP White House hopefuls -- including Bush -- on the same page as the rest of the public (and really, the rest of their party)?

One answer is that candidates can be pretty slow to shift their position on social issues. Another is, well: the money. Medical marijuana has encountered opposition from the business community, which is a very influential donor pool for Republican candidates. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida and the Florida Trucking Association are each, along with Bush, part of the coalition opposing Amendment 2.

Is medical marijuana going to be a big issue in the 2016 primary? Not likely. If anything, it will be part of a broader debate on the drug -- which is legal for recreational use in Colorado and the state of Washington -- and legal penalties for using it, policies Paul and others want to reform.

Still, it's another reminder of the small but notable differences between the potential candidates that could surface on the trail.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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