John Kasich has—thus far—successfully positioned himself as a Republican moderate: chill about gay weddings, base-antagonizing with the Medicaid expansion, and unperturbed by Common Core education standards.
But an upcoming fight in his home state will test Kasich on one of the issues he opposes the most: marijuana legalization.
His opposition could put him at odds again with libertarian-minded members of the Republican Party as well as the majority of Americans who favor legalization—and at a time when his record and stances face more scrutiny than ever.
On Wednesday, the Ohio Secretary of State announced that voters in the key swing state will get a chance to legalize marijuana in November.
And this is no namby-pamby, medical-only, you-have-to-grow-it-yourself barely-legal legalization; the proposed constitutional amendment would legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes.
It would make Ohio the first state to go all-in on the first go, instead of easing in the marijuana market with a limited, medical-only law, according Cleveland.com.
A spokesperson for Kasich’s campaign confirmed that he opposes both legalization in general and this amendment in particular.
Just how un-chill is Kasich with loosening drug laws?
A chapter of his 1998 book Courage Is Contagious gives us a clue.
It is titled “You Don’t Know How Much I Hate Drugs” and is the true story of a young girl who overcame a childhood ruined by drug-addled parents (her mother began her drug use with alcohol and weed) to become a motivational speaker about the dangers of drugs.
Kasich’s position sets him apart from some of the more conservative members of the Republican field.
Senator Ted Cruz supports letting individual states decide whether or not to legalize the drug.
Senator Rand Paul, who has made support of criminal justice reform a key part of his presidential bid, has pushed for federal legislation that would legalize the consumption of marijuana for medical purposes—and earlier this summer, he had a closed-door meeting with leaders of Colorado’s cannabis industry, IBTimes reported.
Those same industry leaders are unlikely to ever hobnob with Kasich.
Though the majority of American voters now favor legalizing marijuana, Kasich has refused to budge.
And in some cases, his rhetoric on the issue has been eyebrow-raising.
In April, he suggested to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that marijuana is just as much of a problem as heroin. When Hewitt asked if he would shut down the markets in Colorado and Washington if he became president, he said he would “have to think about it,” saying “the federal government’s decided to kind of look the other way.”
Then he said Ohio’s ballot initiative would “legalize drugs” (even though it would legalize just one drug, singular).
“I’m totally opposed to it, because it is a scourge in this country,” the governor continued.
Hewitt concluded that Kasich must be undecided—and thus, perhaps, wishy-washy—as to whether to have federal law enforcement shut down Washington and Colorado’s weed markets. Then Kasich took the opportunity to flex his drug-warrior bona fides.
“Let me tell you this though,” Kasich said. “In my state and across this country, if I happen to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country. We’re doing it in Ohio in a variety of ways—through education, prosecution—and it’s an unbelievably serious problem.”
Then he cited a New York Times story on heroin.
“These are horrific things, and I’ll have to think about it,” Kasich added.
Hewitt then retorted that Colorado and Washington hobble anti-drug efforts by “pumping tons of marijuana into the national marketplace.”
“You know what, you may be right,” Kasich replied. “I just want to give it some thought.”
A spokesperson for Kasich’s campaign didn’t confirm if said thought has had results.
And Justin Buchler, associate professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, offered an explanation for Kasich’s lack of thought on the issue.
“It’s never really been his primary focus as a politician,” Buchler said. “If you look at Kasich’s career, it tends to suggest that he is more interested in budgets. That means that he is not going to devote a lot of his time and energy to social issues.”
There is one silver lining for Kasich and his fellow anti-drug crusaders—many advocates of marijuana legalization hate the amendment that will likely end up on the Ohio ballot as much as they do (well, not really, but close).
That’s because it only allows for 10 pot farms, in specific geographic locations. And—big surprise!—the companies that own those farms are the major investors in the legalization campaign, according to Cleveland.com. Not shady at all.
Tyler Henson, the president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed change is a terrible way to make weed legal.
“When you have only 10 growers to supply an entire state with such a large population as Ohio, there is bound to be price-fixing and collusion,” he said. “You can’t stop that.”
“Our industry is slowly bringing back that American Dream, that ideal that anyone in the U.S. can start a business and make something and provide a better life for their family,” he continued. “We’re exercising the true American Dream, and unfortunately I don’t see Ohio’s amendment as doing that.”
So, oddly enough, in a roundabout way, Kasich may be able to make common cause with some of the most devoted supporters of legal marijuana.
But don’t expect their mutual opposition to be a gateway to friendship.