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The 2004 presidential election saw a large number of states voting on ballot measures to approve or ban same-sex marriage in their respective state constitutions. Many political analysts point to this as a strategy employed by the Bush campaign to bring socially conservative voters out to vote against gay marriage while voting for President Bush’s second term.

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In 2016, it appears as though the social issue at the forefront may well be states determining whether to decriminalize marijuana. Report from The American Prospect:

In Politico, Reid Cherlin has an article about the “Pot Primary” in which he makes the rather odd assertion that while the next Democratic president is likely to put him/herself where President Obama is on the issue, “Less predictable is what would happen under a Republican—or how the issue might play out in a volatile Republican primary. No one expects marijuana to be the deciding issue, but then again, it might well be a helpful way for the contenders to highlight their differences.”

Yeah, no. Apart from the possibility of some talk about not sentencing people to overly long prison terms for possession, there isn’t going to be a debate amongst 2016 GOP candidates on this issue. The debate will all be on the Democratic side.

But for Democrats, it’s a more complicated story. There’s a safe position to take right now, which is some kind of middle way, the “I understand where you’re coming from, and I support medical marijuana with strict regulations, but I just can’t bring myself to support full legalization” position. And what does that remind you of? It’s where Democrats were on gay marriage between 2004, when everybody finally had to take a stand, and 2010 or so.

At the beginning of the 2004 campaign, even support for civil unions was considered a radical position. But then it became a topic of genuine debate, and by the end of that campaign, the default position for Democrats was support of civil unions but opposition to full marriage equality. Then we kept on debating it, public opinion kept moving, and today, there is not a single Democrat with national ambitions who doesn’t support full marriage equality.

I’d tend to agree that on the Republican side, with perhaps the exception of Rand Paul, there will not be much support for decriminalizing marijuana. On the Democratic side, it will be a different story.

The question is, can marijuana decriminalization be used as a wedge issue to bring more young, Democrat-leaning voters to the polls like gay marriage was used to bring more older, Republican voters to the polls in 2004?

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