Could Pro-Pot Candidate Gary Johnson Be Obama's Ralph Nader?

Without Democrats standing up for progressive values and reversing the Obama administration's unpopular anti-medical marijuana policy, a spoiler candidate in a Western state is an increasingly likely outcome.
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Without Democrats standing up for progressive values and reversing the Obama administration's unpopular anti-medical marijuana policy, a spoiler candidate in a Western state is an increasingly likely outcome. The Democratic Party may not talk much about the impact of the year-long campaign of stepped-up enforcement in medical cannabis states, but patients and their loved ones are very aware of raids, arrests and prosecutions. The Justice Department's crackdown creates local headlines in states across the West every week. These actions are costing Obama votes in crucial swing states.

With the election possibly hanging in the balance, vulnerable Americans look, as they often do, to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to stand up for what is right. Medical cannabis patients have had great support from liberal Democrats. Nancy Pelosi came out publicly against the cannabis crackdown, and in May, 73 percent of Democrats voted to end the President's policy of enforcement. In order to win this election and bring relief to patients, progressives should make their support for medical cannabis part of the national dialogue.

Why do Progressives need to get involved?

  1. In the three and a half years of Obama's Presidency, his administration has raided more medical cannabis facilities than in the eight years of President Bush.
  2. Despite his pledge to govern by science rather than politics, Obama's DEA has taken the position that marijuana is "without accepted medical use" (a decision we are challenging in court on October 16th).
  3. There are now over one million legal medical marijuana patients in the United States, twice as many as in 2008.
  4. Seventy-four percent of Americans oppose federal interference with state medical cannabis laws.
  5. Elections can turn on this issue. From Democratic Congressional primaries to big-city District Attorney races to statewide elections, candidates opposed to medical marijuana have lost when the issue is present.
  6. Obama can move us forward on this issue without being wrong. Circumstances have changed since 2008, with many more states (as well as DC) adopting compassionate use laws, and with marijuana's status in the Controlled Substances Act under scrutiny by federal courts. Deprioritizing enforcement is no longer enough. There needs to be a conversation about the disconnect between state and federal laws. Who better than this historic president to lead this historic conversation?

Former New Mexico Republican Governor Gary Johnson is running for president as a champion of medical marijuana. Johnson's stump speech focuses on ending drug prohibition, and I've learned that today, a pro-Johnson Super PAC will begin running television advertisements attacking Obama's record on medical marijuana in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Colorado is the fifth most important swing state according to Five Thirty Eight, and two other Western medical marijuana states are in the top 15.

With Johnson polling over six percent in a crucial swing state, Talking Points Memo recently asked if he "poses a greater threat to Obama than Romney in Colorado." Joe Trippi noted that the closeness of the race in the West makes Governor Johnson a potential spoiler, comparing his impact with Nader's in the 2000 election. Ralph Nader's campaign may not have gotten off the ground if Al Gore addressed the issues that separated the two candidates. Instead, in one swing state, a small portion of the vote captured by Nader may have cost Al Gore the election. Based on what my organization, Americans for Safe Access, hear from our grassroots, many former Obama supporters are considering voting for Johnson. And in a razor-thin election, these votes could make the difference.

There is too much at stake for progressives to let President Obama make the same mistake as Al Gore and ignore the third party at his left flank. Could Gary Johnson play Ralph Nader's role this year, and cost Obama the Electoral College? If the Progressive community can unite around compassion, the issue can be taken away from the Libertarians. Progressives -- and anyone else who wants to see Obama win in November -- should join ASA in helping to wake the president up to the fact he can't take medical marijuana patients' votes for granted.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at America's failed war on drugs August 28th and September 4th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.

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