When it comes to supporting the national push to legalize marijuana in several states, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Democratic colleagues should just inhale. It might save their jobs.

Armed with powerful statistics, Brookings Institution expert John Hudak said that having pro-marijuana initiatives on the fall ballot should draw younger, passionate Democrats to the polls and help Reid keep his leadership position and the Senate in Democratic hands.

“The presence of those initiatives will likely drive younger and more liberal voters to the polls,” said Hudak in his report titled “Harry Reid should love marijuana: How legalization could help keep the Senate blue.

Marijuana legalization is on the Alaska and Oregon ballots, two states the GOP hopes to pick up in its bid to take control of the chamber.

His science is simple and proven out over past elections. For example, he found that 2012 marijuana initiatives in Colorado and Washington drew younger, liberal voters.

But he also showed how Republicans used their own hot-button issue — gay marriage — to draw their partisans to the polls. In those elections, voters passionate about gay marriage shucked their apathy and stormed the polls to vote it down. And while in the voting booth, they pulled the switch for GOP candidates.

Hudak said that Democrats are missing out on bigger gains by not getting behind legalization initiatives, like the GOP did on same-sex marriage bans.

“Democrats have missed a real opportunity to make electoral gains — or limit losses — by pushing legalization initiatives. Some credit President Bush’s reelection in 2004 to the push for same sex marriage initiatives on statewide ballots by spurring social conservative turnout. Democrats could have received a similar boost by pushing legalization initiatives that would alter the electorate in a year when Democrats need it for structural and political reasons,” he wrote in a report posted on the Brookings blog.

But he also suggested that Democrats might consider saving a big marijuana push for the 2016 presidential election, when younger voters will be called upon to give their side a win.

“Legalization supporters would be wise to wait until 2016 and capitalize on a dual effect. A presidential election year will bring out voters more sympathetic to legalization, and legalization will bring out even more young, liberal voters than normal,” wrote Hudak.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.