Marijuana: The Gateway to the White House

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential L
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, September 16, 2015. Republican presidential candidates collectively turned their sights on frontrunner Donald Trump at the party's second debate, taking aim at his lack of political experience and his sometimes abrasive style. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

During last night's Republican debate, Jeb Bush, one of the leading Republican candidates and former Governor of Florida, admitted yet again to smoking marijuana when he was young.

"Forty years ago I smoked marijuana, and I admit it."

This is commonplace now if you're running for President. Clinton admitted it, Jeb's brother George W. admitted it, and so did Obama. Apparently, one of the side effects of marijuana use may be the Presidency of the United States -- use with caution.

And that is the hypocrisy. The hypocrisy that Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky pointed out on stage last night: "The people going to jail for this are poor people, often African-Americans and often Hispanics, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren't."

Jeb Bush didn't get caught, his brother didn't get caught, and neither did Clinton or Obama. They didn't go to jail, and they weren't forced into our broken criminal justice system and branded as a criminal for life.

As many candidates liked to repeat last night, "we are a nation of laws." They are right, we are, but our drug laws are broken. Jeb Bush was lucky, but so many others aren't. We arrest over 600,000 people a year for marijuana violations, and we incarcerate more people than any other nation on earth.

The drug war has failed, and it's astounding that many on the GOP debate stage still cling to drug war scare tactics reminiscent of Ronald Reagan. Chris Christie claimed marijuana is a "gateway drug" even though there is no scientific evidence to back up that claim and the vast majority of marijuana users never go on to try other drugs. Carly Fiorina claimed marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol, though recent studies have shown marijuana to be 114 times safer.

These talking points are not only scientifically wrong, they are a losing political strategy. Over 50 percent of Americans support full out legalization and regulation of marijuana, and almost 80 percent support its legalization for medical purposes. Even 60 percent of GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire say the federal government should let the states set their own marijuana policies.

Support is increasing across the board because people are seeing the success of sensible marijuana regulation. They are seeing cannabidiol oil saving young children from hundreds of seizures a day, they are seeing multiple sclerosis patients use marijuana to gain motor function back, and they are seeing Colorado bring in over $70 million in tax revenue from regulated sales in the last fiscal year alone.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and D.C. have now legalized marijuana for personal use, and a total of 23 states have some sort of medical access. And this is just the beginning. As many as seven states may vote on marijuana legalization in 2016. This is an issue that isn't going away. Marijuana policy will be front and center in the general election, and the GOP would be smart to get ahead on it.

Ending the drug war is the human thing to do, the scientific thing to do, and is increasingly becoming the politically expedient thing to do.

Josh Pearson is the Digital Fundraising Manager for Drug Policy Action the political arm of Drug Policy Alliance.