WASHINGTON -- Fifty percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, according to a recently released Gallup poll. That number, up from just 36 percent in 2006, marks a record high and could have significant implications for candidates on the campaign trail, advocates say.
Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson has already come out in favor of legalizing marijuana, announcing on Wednesday that he would even consider issuing a full presidential pardon for anyone serving a prison sentence for a nonviolent marijuana crime. Such pardons are part of what he envisions as a broader "rational drug policy."
"Pot smokers may be the largest untapped voting bloc in the country," he said in an interview with Outside Magazine. "A hundred million Americans have smoked marijuana. You think they want to be considered criminals?"
Though Johnson has been excluded from recent GOP debates and polls show he garners less than 1 percent of the national vote, recent surveys suggest that, if current trends persist, legalization of marijuana could indeed become a hot-button topic by election 2016.
Support for legalization is as high as 62 percent among Americans under the age of 30, and Gallup has found that Americans are especially likely to favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. According to a Gallup survey last year, 70 percent favored making it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana to reduce pain and suffering.
What's more, Republicans could exploit pot advocates' anger at President Barack Obama, who as a candidate promised to maintain a hands-off approach toward pot clinics adhering to state law. At a 2007 town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., Obama said raiding patients who use marijuana for medicinal purposes "makes no sense." At another town hall in Nashua, N.H., he said the Justice Department prosecuting medical marijuana users was "not a good use of our resources." Yet the number of Justice Department raids on marijuana dispensaries has continued to rise.
"The fact that presidential candidates are now actively pointing out the need to end marijuana prohibition, combined with the new Gallup poll showing that more Americans support legalization than oppose it, shows that the time for reform has arrived," said Tom Angell, spokesman for the legalization advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, in an email to HuffPost.
With so many Americans in support of legalization, how long can the rest of the Republican presidential field stay silent on the issue? HuffPost has compiled a slideshow highlighting GOP candidates' positions.