“It's time to put an end to the marijuana crisis on campus,” the meme proclaims in vivid text superimposed on a shot of photogenic 20-somethings. “Vote Hillary and #StopThePot.” The bottom of the image is emblazoned with the Hillary Clinton campaign logo, noting that it was “paid for by Hillary for America.”
- “Donald Trump wants to decriminalize Marijuana. We know better. It's time America has tougher Marijuana laws, Enforced on a federal level.”
- “No girl deserves to have her future ruined by marijuana. That's why we'll keep it off our streets for good.”
- “We will stand with Law Enforcement and take marijuana off the streets. Once and for all.”
- “Marijuana is not medicine. Vote Hillary and #StopThePot”
The images all bear the familiar Clinton campaign branding, but none were actually “Approved by Hillary for America.” Rather, they're part of a concerted effort, launched by members of a pro-Trump Reddit community, to suppress support for Clinton among young, pot-friendly voters.
It follows a similar misinformation campaign called #DraftOurDaughters, which involved Photoshopping Clinton's logo on memes that claimed, “Clinton was aggressively pursuing a plan to draft young women into the military, usually for a war against Russia,” according to The Washington Post's Abby Ohlheiser.
On Sunday, a Reddit user whose account has since been deleted submitted a post to “r/the_donald,” the largest community of Trump supporters on Reddit, saying, “What we did with #DraftourDaughters we need to do with #StopthePOT.”
A moderator for r/the_donald confirmed that the group created the #StopThePot campaign. Another moderator said that “the mod team's position is that we do not want any degree of association with the Washington Post and we have no comment for you regarding this or any other matter.”
The #StopThePot campaign is premised on the notion that tying Clinton to strong anti-marijuana messages would turn off young, liberal voters. “Anti pot would definitely hurt her,” one Reddit user commented on the original post.
Soon, users were submitting Photoshopped images to r/the_donald for dissemination on social media. One of the first was from a Redditor with the handle Avatarius87, who identified himself as a Hispanic American from Arizona in response to a question from a Post reporter.
“The idea itself came from Hillary's private position on the issue,” Avatarius87 explained, citing a leaked speech Clinton gave at Xerox in 2014 in which she said she was opposed to marijuana legalization “in all senses of the word.”
“This realization hit me, that she could very well be threatening to actually regress on cannabis policy,” Avatarius87 said, “and as someone who is avidly for the decriminalization of cannabis for health and criminal reasons, I had a chance to make it a part of the conversation.”
The Clinton campaign has said that Hillary will reschedule marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule 2, a slightly less-restrictive designation that could make it easier to research medical uses of the plant. “She will also ensure Colorado, and other states that have enacted marijuana laws, can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy,” the campaign said in a statement in August.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a group working to legalize marijuana nationwide, gave Clinton a B+ grade on marijuana policy earlier this year. By contrast, Republican candidate Donald Trump earned a C+. Trump, too, has said that marijuana should be a “state-by-state” issue, but he's been more vociferous about concerns with Colorado's marijuana industry, telling Fox News host Bill O'Reilly earlier this year that legal weed is “causing a lot of problems out there.”
The #StopThePot memes hit social media around the same time as another misinformation campaign originated by apparent Trump supporters that encouraged Clinton supporters to cast their vote via text, which is not possible in any state.
#StopThePot inspired numerous posts at r/the_donald, as well as heated discussions among users on how best to confuse 420-friendly Clinton voters.
“Guys No!” one user implored in response to Avatarius87's image of police checking on evidently passed-out drug users on a street. “You need to have pictures of everyday americans getting arrested not cops searching junkies on a curb.” Another user said, “you have given me a fantastic gift” and “I will attempt to spread this everywhere because: many states are voting on legalization for the first time and it's a very popular choice.”
Another post from user RickGrimesTrump argued that “people who are dumb enough to vote for Hillary are dumb enough to retweet #StopThePot.. start getting it out there! Find people tweeting stuff like #voteblue and engage with them!”
It's unclear whether the campaign actually fooled anyone. The images were shared by a number of prominent pro-Trump Twitter users with tens of thousands of followers.
According to Twitter's terms of service, “Twitter accounts portraying another person in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under the Twitter impersonation policy.”
#StopThePot does not appear to be connected to the Trump campaign, but the campaign and the Republican National Committee have been subject to numerous lawsuits in recent weeks over alleged efforts to intimidate voters or suppress votes in several states. This week, a federal judge ordered the GOP to disclose any concerted efforts to monitor polls in conjunction with Trump's campaign.
The Trump campaign has made no secret of its efforts to discourage certain categories of people from voting on Tuesday. “We have three major voter suppression operations underway,” a Trump campaign official told Bloomberg News last week. These efforts are designed to depress turnout among young liberals, women and black voters with negative ads focusing on Clinton's politics and past.
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