A Democratic Dilemma on Legalizing Pot

There's only one thing standing in the way of the Democratic Party using the pot issue to win elections: Democratic politicians.

Legalizing marijuana is an issue made to order for the Democratic Party. A majority of Americans now supports the idea, and so do two out of three Democrats. Two states have done it, and several more may vote on it in 2016.

The party could put the issue to use against Republicans, who have no desire to be the party of weed. Can you imagine Rick Santorum or Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan endorsing legalization? Even libertarian Rand Paul declines to go that far.

He is not misreading his party. Chris Christie will lose no votes in the primaries for saying, as he did last month, "I don't favor legalization. I don't favor recreational use. I don't favor decriminalization. And I don't favor the use of marijuana as a medicine."

So the GOP is locked into a position that is steadily losing appeal with the public. Worse yet, support for legalization is highest among young people and lowest among seniors. Rejecting it is a great way to worsen the Republicans' ominous demographic problem.

There's only one thing standing in the way of the Democratic Party using the pot issue to win elections, curtail arrests of minorities, free money for social programs and cement the allegiance of young voters: Democratic politicians.

Start with Hillary Clinton. Her husband may have tried weed, but she has never attested to such youthful indiscretions, probably because she never committed them. As secretary of state, she spoke out against legalization of cannabis, and in 2008 she rejected even decriminalization.

That stance is no accident. Clinton got involved in politics in the 1970s, when Democrats were tarred as hippies and draft-dodgers—embracing "acid, amnesty and abortion," Republicans alleged. If Democrats of that era learned anything, they learned to look and sound like they couldn't find Woodstock on a map.

Shedding an ingrained persona at her age does not come easy. My bet is you'll see Dick Cheney on a skateboard before you'll see Clinton go after the stoner vote. If she's the 2016 presidential nominee, legalizers will have to look elsewhere.

Democratic governors also blanch at the sight of a pipe. New York's Andrew Cuomo, who only recently accepted medical marijuana, rejects legalization. Connecticut's Dannel Malloy says, "I don't think we are ready, or want to go down that road."

Don't look for a live-and-let-live approach in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown recently went off on the sort of addled tangent that could be excused only if he were high. "All of a sudden, if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?" he asked scornfully. "The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive."

Brown apparently is unaware that cannabis use is far more common in the United States than in the Netherlands, which has one of the most permissive regimes in the world. Banning pot doesn't actually prevent people from getting baked.

Of course, if you truly wanted to worry about a mind-altering toxin that damages productivity and ruins lives, you wouldn't focus on marijuana; you'd focus on alcohol. But Brown doesn't worry that the Golden State's many wineries and craft breweries put it at a competitive disadvantage.

Even Democratic governors presiding over legalization are not wearing "Bong Hits for Jesus" T-shirts. When Washington voters voted on legalization in 2012, Jay Inslee was running for governor and unsuccessfully opposed it. Colorado's John Hickenlooper came out against the Colorado initiative, which also passed. Neither has gotten giddy about the idea since then.

But it's hard for Democrats to justify treating mere possession as a crime, if only because that policy has so many corrosive effects they should care about. It squanders revenue that could be used for more useful government programs. It causes blacks to be arrested four times more often than whites, even though they smoke weed at roughly the same rate.

It encourages police to stop and frisk—a practice that in New York City, a federal judge ruled last year, led to violations of the Constitution and unjustified racial profiling.

Democratic politicians could be making the case for change at a time when the public is increasingly receptive to a new policy. Instead, they are clinging blindly to the status quo. They undoubtedly are smarter than the average rodent. But even rats know enough to leave a sinking ship.

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  • Another David||

    What a surprise, that's the same thing holding the Democratic Party back from winning elections on every other issue!

  • John C. Randolph||

    The war on drugs is a massive pork-barrel scheme, and a pretext for vast usurpations of power. OF COURSE the democrats want it to continue.

    -jcr

  • Acosmist||

    Can you imagine a publication like National Review endorsing legalization? Of course not! That would be silly.

  • Virginian||

    I see what you did there.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The GOP will be lucky to draw Hil-Dog in 2016. She voted for the Iraq war and her only legislation as a Senator was a ban on violent video games. She needs to go away.

  • R C Dean||

    Surely her stellar career as SecState overcomes all that, right?

  • JWatts||

    What difference at this point does it make?

  • dinkster||

    Never gets old.

  • XM||

    The REAL Palin's Buttplug would never say anything bad about democrats. You must have killed him.

  • datcv||

    I have never agreed with anything you have written more than these 3 sentences.

    Happy Friday!

  • R C Dean||

    There's only one thing standing in the way of the Democratic Party using the pot issue to win elections

    The pubsec unions?

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    "Democratic politicians ... undoubtedly are smarter than the average rodent."

    Only false statement in the piece. Otherwise, completely factual.

  • WilliamsMaragret||

    my roomate's mom makes $79 /hour on the laptop . She has been out of work for five months but last month her paycheck was $19158 just working on the laptop for a few hours. have a peek at this website.........
    http://www.workbarr.com

  • SlV||

    Other than some former-mayor of Baltimore have any "prominent" Dems come out in favor of drug legalization, even when it is safe to do so post-career?

    They're a bit long-in-the-tooth but George P. Shultz, holder of 4 different cabinet positions in GOP administrations and James A Baker, ex-Secretarys of State and Treasury and the man who secured Fla. for W over Gore have both been full on legalizers of everything (not just the weed) since the early 1990s.

    Other prominent ex-GOP legalizers that come to mind are, of course, ex-Gov GaJay and Ron Paul.

    Where are the Dems who want to end the War on Drugs? They are the Party of Pot and Tolerance so where are they?

  • SlV||

    ex-Gov GaJay

    GayJay

    fmr-NM GOP Governor Gary Johnson

  • Thomas O.||

    Maybe his nickname should be "GarJo". I would've recognized him from that.

  • Calidissident||

    Barney Frank (loathsome as he is) teamed up with Ron Paul a couple times to push decriminalization and/or legalization. He was the sponsor of a bill in 08 that Paul co-sponsored that would have eliminated criminal penalties for up to 100 grams of weed, among other things. All co-sponsors besides Paul were Democrats. Jared Polis sponsored a different bill last year that would have completely removed marijuana from the controlled substances list. The bill had 16 co-sponsers, 15 of whom were Democrats. As a whole, the Democratic Party sucks on this issue, and is certainly not the Party of Pot and Tolerance, but the GOP is even worse, aside from a couple people like Ron Paul.

  • Robert||

    There was NY assemblyman Joe Galiber, but he's dead.

  • Waffen Hans||

    This article failed to mention that Gov. Rick Perry is in favor of decriminalizing pot. There is a lot to be said about it not only coming from him but the State of Texas, which is THE most conservative state.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....alization/

  • SlV||

    the State of Texas, which is THE most conservative state.

    arguably

    Speaking of which, GA has a shot at sending TWO libertarian-leaners to Congress this year. Ex-LP Potus candidate Bob Barr in GA-11 and Every Cosmotarian's Nightmare, the Ron Paul-endorsed Dr. Paul Broun to the US Senate.

    A certain magazine might ought to cover this story before the upcoming GA Primary.Brian Doherty would be my pick to write it.

  • Juice||

    Texas the most conservative? Have you never heard of Kansas? Even Oklahoma is more conservative than Texas.

  • Thomas O.||

    I'd put Utah, Mississippi and maybe Alabama ahead of Texas as to conservativeness. But yeah, the sooner we can wrest political influence from all the religious nanny-staters, the better.

  • Calidissident||

    Rick Perry is one guy, and he's not even advocating legalization. The article is correct in that, as a whole, the GOP has no desire to become the party of legal pot. Of course, neither do the Dems

  • Thomas O.||

    You'd think there'd be a lot of political capital now in wanting to be the "Treatment Over Tyranny" party. Obviously the Police Union, Big Pharma and Big Prison Inc. viruses are hard to eradicate.

  • Poptech||

    Actually their are over 150 scientific studies standing in the way of this,

    150+ Scientific Studies Showing the Dangers of Marijuana

  • Virginian||

    *rolls eyes* so we should ban alcohol and tobacco too obviously.

  • Poptech||

    It is important to be intellectually honest about the dangers of marijuana.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    I always look to populartechnology.net for lit reviews on key public policy and medical issues.

  • Poptech||

    You don't have to as this is a resource to the scientific literature. The links speak for themselves.

  • XM||

    Clinton will get the Stoners' vote, her opposition to legalization notwithstanding. Legalization is a key libertarian position, but not all legalization advocates are libertarians.

    Look at how the media jumped on e-cigs scare stories. The Dems know going all out for drugs can be risky. Edible marijuana and pet consumption of marijuana foods are already drawing some attention. MJ may save lives, but the media will zoom in on the sensationalist stories.

    Remember, the dems are "think about the children" party. Once pot industry grows big or drug related death increase even a tad, they'll blame greed and turn to regulations.

  • eyeroller||

    Even libertarian Rand Paul declines to go that far.

    Maybe you should stop saying "libertarian Rand Paul."

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