Did Trump's Failure to Legalize Marijuana Cost Him the Election?

President Trump could've increased his reelection chances had he followed up on his populist rhetoric and enacted federal marijuana reform. Instead he bent the knee to the Republican donor class and paid the price. 

It's no secret that attitudes towards cannabis have drastically improved over the past few decades. Gone are the days when both Democratic and Republican politicians would tout the danger of 'reefer-madness' and instil fear into the minds of voters regarding marijuana.

Thankfully we've reached a point where most compassionate folks will raise an eyebrow at the idea of spending decades jailing someone for possessing a plant that mellows you out. Especially when more harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco are fair game. 

Unfortunately, most Republican politicians (and more importantly their donors) haven't gotten with the times. Whether they take campaign contributions from big pharma, corporations running private prisons or have simply bought into the old rhetoric of the 'dangers of pot', that mindset remains ingrained in the Washington establishment.

So when Trump found himself fighting for every solitary vote this past month to win reelection, he should've returned to what secured him the White House in the first place; an anti-establishment, populist message touting a return to American greatness and an expulsion of the donor class. 

Did he fulfil all those promises? No, he did not. But we're not getting into all that here. What we're focusing on is whether embracing cannabis reform would've helped him purely in a political sense. Short answer: It would've, but not enough. Why you ask? Keep reading. 

What he said he was going to do

Throughout his campaigning in 2016, his term as President and his reelection bid; Trump has done whatever it took, in his mind, to overcome the obstacle directly in-front of him. His voters want recreational pot? "I think medical should happen, right? Don't we agree? I mean I think so," he said at a Nevada rally in 2015. "I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason, the marijuana really helps them."

You put him on Fox News where the agenda is decidedly anti-pot? "There's a lot of difficulty in terms of illness and what's going on with the brain and the mind and what it's doing," he said. "In some ways I think it's good and in other ways it's bad."

What if you then get critics saying he changed his stance? Easy, just deflect responsibility to the states: "I really believe you should leave it up to the states. It should be a state situation… In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state." Do you want Trump's real stance on marijuana? It's simple; it depends on whichever audience he's pandering to at this exact moment.

What he ended up doing

So when Trump finds himself actually riding his anti-establishment message to the White House in 2016, suddenly he has no need to please his voters for several years. Marijuana becomes #78 on his list of priorities. Your staunch anti-pot Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to repeal an Obama-era pro-marijuana memo? Sure thing, everything attached to Obama must go.

Anti-pot billionaire donors like Sheldon Adelson don't want you enacting marijuana reform? Well we can't lose his support, better shelve it. As president, Trump took no decisive action on marijuana legalisation. To him it simply wasn't important enough to make it onto the agenda. 

Politicians chase trends all the time, Trump did so to win the White House in the first place. But when you're trying to win a second term? You can't rely on promises and bluster. The bill comes due and the anti-establishment voters you won four years ago will ask "Did he actually do what he said he was going to do?" when in the voting both. 

What it cost him

Because of that it's ironic that if he actually did legalise cannabis on a federal level it would've given him a measurable advantage. It's a potential advantage he squandered because we've gotten to the point now in America where cannabis is actually more popular across the isle than both candidates of major parties. 

In conservative South Dakota, medical marijuana won 70% of the vote compared to Trump's 61.8% (even recreational marijuana passed the majority threshold with 54.2%). Medical marijuana cleaned house in Mississippi with 73% of the vote compared to Trump's 59.7%. Recreational marijuana got 67% of the vote in New Jersey, and Trump lost that state with only 40%. 

What it all means

So what can we take from those stats? If Trump committed to a staunch pro-cannabis agenda and implemented it as president, it would've done him nothing but good. But does this indicate that it would've secured victory? Not exactly. Because other than New Jersey, Trump already won those aforementioned states and he still lost the White House.

This is because in a year as depressing and tragic as 2020 and a political climate as charged and divided as the United States; every issue matters, including cannabis reform. But if every issue makes a difference to a candidate's chances of victory, it follows that no one issue will win the day alone. 

As of writing this article Trump secured 232 electoral college votes out of the 270 required to win (Biden got 306). In a hypothetical world where Trump ended the federal prohibition on marijuana and became the champion of cannabis advocates in the US; he still would've lost with around 240-something electoral college votes max.

Thanks to his failed COVID-19 response, his giant tax cuts on the rich, his brutal anti-immigration policy, his 4-year long tantrum against the media, his constant meltdowns on twitter, his racist rhetoric, his pro-authoritarian leanings and his denial of climate change among so many other factors; Trump would've still lost the election.

So to any aspiring politicians planning on riding that populist wave to power; remember that you better have some plan in place to actually follow on all your big ideas. Otherwise you should get used to the idea of serving only one term. Trump is currently learning that the hard way. 

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Cameron Kinsella
Cameron Kinsella

Cameron is an Australian writer, film geek, and political science graduate from the University of Sydney who is passionate about the culture that has arisen surrounding cannabis. Cameron hopes to one day bring that culture to Australia through educating audiences