Could weed policy woo young voters back to Biden?

SINGLE ISSUE TOKER — The president has seen an alarming erosion in support among young voters in recent months, with a spate of national and state polls showing him with a narrow lead — or even running behind — Donald Trump with that demographic.

Weed could be the unlikely way back into their hearts for Joe Biden.

It’s no small matter for Democrats because young voters are a crucial part of any winning coalition: Biden crushed Trump by 24 points among voters under the age of 30 in 2020, according to exit polls.

A recent national poll shows that young voters overwhelmingly support Biden’s moves to loosen federal marijuana restrictions. A whopping 65 percent of 18- to 25-year-old likely voters expressed support for the administration’s recent recommendation to move marijuana to a less stringent classification under federal law, compared to just 14 percent who indicated opposition.

Veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, whose firm conducted the survey, argues that the issue could help woo back young voters who have grown disaffected with Biden, particularly over his unwavering support for Israel since the outbreak of the Gaza war.

“What should be a base group has ended up … kind of a swing group,” said Lake, who worked on Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, in an interview. “They’re the most susceptible to looking at a third party. They’re the biggest group of people who don’t like either candidate. And so you’ve got a group of swing voters who are just incredibly supportive and intense on this issue.”

In August, the Food and Drug Administration — following a scientific review ordered by Biden — recommended moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act. While marijuana would remain illegal under federal law if that change is enacted, it would significantly loosen restrictions, including making it easier to conduct research and easing federal tax burdens for cannabis companies.

No final decision has been made — the Drug Enforcement Administration will have the ultimate say on reclassifying marijuana, and there’s no deadline for when the agency will make that call. But if that recommendation is implemented, as is widely expected, it would mark the biggest change in federal drug policy in more than half a century.

The rest of the country isn’t waiting for the federal government when it comes to weed legalization. Two dozen states — representing more than half of the country’s population — have legalized possession for anyone at least 21 years old, while 38 states have established medical marijuana programs. An eye-popping 70 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, the highest level ever recorded, according to the latest Gallup poll on the issue.

“The voters are way, way ahead of where the politicians are at,” Lake said. “This is just completely non-controversial to them.”

Biden is a highly unlikely figure to potentially reap the electoral benefits of loosening weed restrictions. The octogenarian spent decades in Congress voting in favor of tough penalties for drug offenses, and his own son has notoriously struggled with substance abuse problems.

But Biden has said repeatedly — both in the 2020 campaign, and since taking office — that no one should be in prison for using marijuana. And he’s issued two rounds of pardons for people convicted of marijuana-related offenses.

Donald Trump’s position on marijuana remains somewhat hazy. His administration rescinded Obama-era guidance from the Justice Department instructing federal prosecutors not to target people engaging in state-legal cannabis activities, but there was no ensuing federal crackdown on weed scofflaws. Trump did not take any steps to change the classification of the drug under federal law while in office.

While weed is hardly a topline issue for voters of any age or political persuasion, Lake believes it could prove to be a potent wildcard in what’s expected to be an excruciatingly close presidential contest.

“It’s good for mobilization and for persuasion. So if you want to get young voters on your side, this is a great issue. If you want to get young voters to turn out, it’s a great issue,” Lake said. “The clarity, the emotion behind it, gives it an outsized saliency.”

The poll was commissioned by the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform, which includes industry and advocacy groups that support loosening weed restrictions. While it was conducted in early October, Lake doesn’t believe anything has changed since then that would significantly alter public perceptions on cannabis policy.

“It’s probably gotten even more important in the ensuing three months because of the impact of the war in Gaza on attitudes of young people,” she said.

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out with news, tips and ideas at [email protected]. Or contact tonight’s author at [email protected] on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @PaulDemko.

— Peter Navarro sentenced to four months in prison for defying Jan. 6 committee: Peter Navarro, a former trade adviser to Donald Trump, has been sentenced to four months in prison for defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta handed down the sentence today, describing Navarro’s refusal to testify or provide documents to the panel as an affront to a branch of government seeking to understand a harrowing attack on democracy.

— Trump briefly takes stand in E. Jean Carroll trial, but doesn’t say much: Donald Trump testified in his own defense today in a federal defamation trial, answering a total of five questions on the witness stand after the judge overseeing the trial severely curtailed the scope of the former president’s testimony. Though Trump muttered under his breath before walking to the witness stand, his three minutes of testimony were devoid of antics. He gave mostly direct replies that were quickly cut off the moment they threatened to veer off-course — a stark contrast from his discursive filibustering when he took the stand last fall in an unrelated trial for business fraud.

— McConnell dispels doubts about his commitment to a border-Ukraine deal: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a private meeting today that he still supports a border security deal linked to Ukraine aid, according to GOP senators who attended — delivering a crucial boost to talks that are getting more complicated by the minute. McConnell has spent the past few months singularly focused on getting billions of new dollars to Ukraine, so normally such a pledge would not be earth-shaking. Yet some Republicans woke up today wondering if their bid to link stricter immigration policy to foreign aid was still viable, after McConnell on Wednesday delivered a candid assessment of the challenges posed by former President Donald Trump’s dominance in the presidential primary.

RIGGED? — The Republican National Committee (RNC) is reviewing a draft resolution that, if approved, would declare Donald Trump the party’s presumptive 2024 presidential nominee even as Nikki Haley continues to wage a vigorous campaign against the former president and frontrunner, reports the Dispatch.

The draft resolution, obtained by The Dispatch this morning, was proposed by David Bossie, an RNC committeeman from Maryland and close Trump ally. His effort to put the national party on a general election footing behind Trump follows RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saying after the former president defeated Haley in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary that it was time for Republicans to unite behind the frontrunner and focus on defeating President Joe Biden.

RIPE MELLON — A pro-Donald Trump super PAC raised over $46 million in the second half of 2023 and ended the year with just over $23 million in cash on hand, as it gears up for the general election, POLITICO reports. More than a dozen donors gave $1 million or more to the Trump-aligned MAGA Inc. But the biggest donation by far came from Timothy Mellon, a transportation executive and heir to the Mellon banking fortune, who wrote a $10 million check.

END OF THE TOUR — Washington will begin talks with Baghdad to end a U.S.-led international military coalition in the country while determining the best ways to strengthen relations, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced today.

Working group meetings of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission will start in the coming days, beginning the process that both countries agreed to during talks in Washington last summer.

The meetings aim to ensure the transition to “an enduring bilateral security partnership” between Washington and Baghdad, Austin said in the statement, adding that the process “reflects the deep U.S. commitment to regional stability and Iraqi sovereignty.”

The U.S. announced the talks in a letter to Iraq’s foreign minister on Wednesday, Reuters first reported. Washington originally insisted that Iran-backed Iraqi militant groups end their attacks on U.S. troops in the country as a condition of beginning the talks, but have since backed down.

Those groups have attacked U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria multiple times since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, prompting retaliatory strikes by Washington.

About 2,500 American troops, as well as hundreds of service members from other European countries, are stationed in Iraq to assist security forces in the country in the fight against the Islamic State.

Military and defense professionals in the working groups will focus on a transition timeline, taking into consideration the threat posed by ISIS, operational and environmental requirements, and the Iraqi security forces’ capability levels, according to the statement.

NOT ADDING UP — If you’ve been on TikTok in the last year, it’s likely you’ve come across a video explaining how you can make money passively through any number of different hacks. These videos are gaining attraction across the app, whether they are coming from actual financial advisors or people who just act like it. The influencers promise tips to help make people rich — but the math doesn’t add up, Rolling Stone reports. Some of these people may be committing fraud and deception — and that could be dangerous for many TikTok users, especially younger viewers. Miles Klee looks at the world of TikTok influencers using their platforms for financial advice and the problems that it could present.

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