Legal Marijuana Favored by 58% of Americans, 1% of Senators



This week Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told Talking Points Memo he is inclined to vote yes on Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use in his state. "I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case," Merkley said. "And there is concern about a series of new products—and we don't have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure."

This makes Merkley the first U.S. senator to endorse the legalization of marijuana. [But see the addendum.] Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whom you might expect to agree with Merkley, so far has shied away from supporting legalizaton, although he has said drug policy should be left mainly to the states. A few more senators, including Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Lamar Alexander, have said the federal government should not try to block legalization in Colorado, Washington, or any other state that follows their example. But at this point Merkley is the only senator to openly say that legalization is better than prohibition.

On the face of it, Merkley's status as the Senate's sole legalizer is puzzling, since recent polls indicate that somewhere between 48 percent (CBS News) and 58 percent (Gallup) of Americans think marijuana should be legal. You would think that more than 1 percent of the U.S. Senate would agree by now. The picture is similar in the House, where many members seem to agree with Roberts and Alexander that states should be free to legalize marijuana but very few are prepared to say it's a good idea.

Legislators are much less shy about taking controversial positions on other contentious issues. When it comes to, say, abortion or gun control, there are plenty of senators and representatives on both sides of the debate, even though they are bound to alienate many voters by taking a stand. But on the subject of marijuana, politicians seem terrified of saying anything that could be portrayed as soft on drugs, even when dealing with reforms, such as legalizing medical use, that have had solid majority support for years. Presumably that's because they think prohibitionists are more passionate than legalizers and therefore more likely to vote based on this issue. The only way to really test that hypothesis would be to follow Merkley's lead and see what happens.

In the end, it may not matter that almost no one in Congress is willing to say pot should be legal, as long as enough of them are willing to take a federalist approach to the issue. A legislator could oppose legalization or remain agnostic on the subject even while supporting legislation like the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced last year. Rohrabacher's bill would essentially repeal the federal ban on marijuana, making it inapplicable in states that decide to legalize. That's something that any conservative who pays lip service to federalism should be able to get behind without looking like a pot-loving hippie.

Addendum: Tom Angell points out that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who opposed her state's legalization initiative, last March told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I support what voters in Washington state have done." I'm not sure that counts as an endorsement of the policy, since Murray was talking about letters aimed at getting the Justice Department to clarify its position regarding legalization in Washington and Colorado. "I believe my name has been on letters to the Justice Department," she said. It's clear that Murray wants the feds to respect the will of Washington voters; it's not so clear that she has reconsidered the merits of legalizing marijuana. But if we count Murray, that makes two senators who publicly support legalization, or 2 percent of the Senate. 

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  1. Congress would probably do a better job if they were stoned, so there’s that.

    1. Maybe they would at least forget what kind of legislation they were going to put forward to screw over the people more, so that would be a plus.

    2. *Starts picking up rocks*

      I agree, stone them all!

  2. How many of that 58% are millennials?

    1. More importantly, how many are seniors. Find that number, and I bet the 1% of “pro” Senators will make more sense.

      1. ^THIS^
        Seniors vote. Millennials usually don’t.

  3. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whom you might expect to agree with Merkley, so far has shied away from supporting legalizaton, although he has said drug policy should be left mainly to the states.

    How is that not legalization at the federal level, which is where Rand Paul works?

    1. Has Paul even come close to touching the Controlled Substances Act? I mean, your state can legalize it, but the DEA can still throw you in jail.

      1. I think Rand Paul’s idea is that it is better to make suggestions like this and having politicians freak out AFTER winning the POTUS seat rather than beforehand where they can undermine your chances of winning the POTUS seat.

        Someone who knows better than I will have to say whether the scheduled substances are assigned in the legislation or if an executive-level bureaucrat can change the schedule whenever they want.

        1. Someone who knows better than I will have to say whether the scheduled substances are assigned in the legislation or if an executive-level bureaucrat can change the schedule whenever they want.

          The answer is yes, and that executive-level bureaucrat would be the Attorney General.

          Of course, that only reflects Obama and Holder’s hypocrisy and has no bearing on Paul, but he can propose changes to the law as a Senator.

          1. The previous statute didn’t allow the administration to remove controls from substances that Congress had designated (although it did allow the administration to newly control substances, and to decontrol substances that’d previously been administratively controlled), but the Controlled Substances Act allows the administr’n to do even that. However, they’re not allowed to make tobacco, malt beverages, wine, or spirits controlled substances.

  4. Sounds like someone needs a visit from the prison and treatment lobby.

  5. [Insert standard “joint session” joke here.]

    1. “We need to puff-puff-pass this bill”


  6. How many Senators smoke marijuana?

    1. I’d actually be disappointed if that number is zero.

      If none of the other laws really apply to them, why would the legality of certain substances be of consequence?

      1. I got to the thread where you were talking about cider too late last night. You should try JK Skrumpy. It’s about 6% IIRC, but it taste like biting into a fresh apple.

        1. I am a fan of JK Skrumpy. They have a northern blend of some kind that goes well with cheddar-bacon-maple scones. If that sounds oddly specific, it’s because I can only find those two things at one store here in town, so I frequently buy them together.

    2. I’d guess that the power-hungry elite (who don’t get drug tested, of course) are more into cocaine. It’s hard to enjoy your power boner when you’re zonked out; it’s much better when you’re energized.

      Which reminds me, I should get stoned after I deadlift today.

      1. I guess that would explain how they manage to be so productive without thinking of consequences…

        It’s deload week for me, but I usually smoke before and after. Thug life, ya’ll.

        1. Before, really? I don’t think that would work well for me. Though I admit I have been itching to try getting baked before playing tennis. I’d either be terrible or turn into Roger Federer, I think, though I’d bet pretty heavily on the former over the latter.

          1. Haaaahaha! I would watch that.

            I’ve found that I can generally lift heavier when I smoke before. I’m not sure if it makes me more focused necessarily, but a lot of movements improve for me–double-unders, technical snatches, clean and jerks, etc.

            Bear in mind I don’t do any cardio, and I’m sure there’d be a negative impact there if I was into running or something.

          2. Some coaches will tell you it’s far more important to forget than to remember.

            1. It does help me forget some of the horrifying videos of failed lifts…

      2. You’ve obviously not tried to get itg up when you were coked. Take my word for it, it’s limp noodle city.

  7. You would think that more than 1 percent of the U.S. Senate would agree by now

    It may seem odd if you don’t put it into perspective with the bigger picture. Most of our elected officials are control freaks who only care about control over peoples’ lives and about enriching themselves and their cronies. Legalizing drugs does nothing to help them with that. In fact, just the opposite for the most part and I think it makes them fear that they might lose even more control over the peasants. That’s the reason, nothing really to do with cannabis itself.

    1. Spot on. Statists care about leverage over you and what they can extract from your wallet. Until they agree on a method for maximizing pot taxes, cartelizing the distribution systems, and keeping you in line, nothing will change.

    2. I don’t buy that at all. Rather, I think it’s primarily the political calcul’n that practically nobody will vote for a politician on the basis of legalizing cannabis, but that some people will vote against a politician on that basis, especially when it requires getting a major party nomination 1st. 2ndarily it’s the spillover effect on a politician’s image that pot is considered frivolous, therefore that anyone bringing it up appears frivolous, unserious.

      I don’t think political office selects any more for control freakishness than being politically active to any degree or in any way does. It’s the voters & activists who are control freaks, the pols merely their conduits following orders.

    3. Spot on! All started with Nixon and “those damned hippies” who wouldn’t tow the party war line. They were and still are especially afraid of losing control of the military and law enforcement since many guys came back from Vietnam with a different perspective after sampling the local herb there.

  8. Do they really care, or are they just opposed to ever repealing any of thousands of bad laws on the books?

  9. RO is fucking lame here! It is federally placed in their schedule ONE. It is a federal issue as adjudicated and needs to be removed, a job entirely within the scope of congress, RP you fucking tool!

    I am also calling in my I told you so marker on the idiots here if I recall correctly including sloopy who expressed that the feds would interfere with my states legalisation of marijuana when fact nothing of the sort has happened

    Our governor did restrain some aspects of legalisation though due to fears of fed intervention

    Rand Paul should get off his ass and be on the floor of Congress advocating for the removal of marijuana from schedule one. Jesus Christ, get some fucking sack


    More pole vaulter beauty!…..12-photos/

    1. Rand Paul should get off his ass and be on the floor of Congress advocating for the removal of marijuana from schedule one.

      Couldn’t agree more. Paul’s slickness is becoming tedious.

      1. How many people has Rand Paul put in jail over marijuana?

        1. What?!

  10. They’d have to smoke it to know what’s in it.

  11. Wow. As an Oregonian, I’ll attest that Merkley is an absolutely horrible senator. You can reliably count on him being on the wrong side of virtually every issue imaginable. I’m amazed that he’d (a) get something right, and (b) be the only senator who does.

  12. On the face of it, Merkley’s status as the Senate’s sole legalizer is puzzling,

    Nobody’s gotten voted out of the Senate for insufficient support of MJ legalization. You won’t see a shift in this issue until Senators get canned, or are in danger of being canned, over it.

    1. And that’s very unlikely to happen before legal pot gets maybe 85% acceptance or greater. What is the scenario for getting a major party nomination (or having been an incumbent or recent office-holder running as an independent) and the gen’l election as long as there’s a voting bloc against it, and no add’l support for being for it?

  13. Why does Reason forget game theory whenever talking about Marijuana? So what if so many people support legalizing it? That doesn’t mean anything. What matters is how many people vote based on that issue.

    Contrast pot to guns. Time and again Progs will trot out some poll that says the majority of Americans want gun control like that matters. It doesn’t matter because as long as there are many more people willing to vote on the single issue of stopping gun control than there are people willing to vote on the single issue of getting it, it won’t happen.

    It is the same thing here. How many people who support legalization of pot are actually willing to change their votes to support a candidate who wants to decriminalize it? Damn few. Worse still, there are a ton of people out there who while I minority of the overall country are absolutely willing to change their votes based on this issue.

    So few Senators support it because supporting it would lose them more votes than it would get them. It is just that simple.

    1. Exactly, & the problem is exacerbated by how positions currently align by political party. To get the Democrats’ nomination, you need “the beef”, i.e. the gimmes (free shit) & other interest group privileges. To get the Republicans’ nomination, you need to be seen as not opposing the traditionalists’ interests, such as by upsetting the current/recent categoriz’n of recreational substances as acceptable or unacceptable.

    2. Here’s another angle: Voters and columnists will suspect that any pro-legalizer is a secret toker. This makes politicians shy of coming out in favor of legalization–but it’s more because they fear a loss of social standing more than the loss of votes.

  14. Merkley “is inclined” to vote yes on 91–which would legalise marijuana at the state level for his state.

    Paul thinks drug policy should be left to the states.

    This is the exact same stance. Roberts and Alexander share it as well.

    Why create division where there is none?

    1. Paul never said he would support legalization in KY.

    2. I don’t get that either. And moreover, maybe they just don’t support legalization and that is why they are not saying so publicly?

      When it comes to issues like immigration where Reason disagrees with the public, Reason seems perfectly fine with Senators ignoring public opinion.

    3. There ID division

      Under federal law, enforceable by PRISON TIME, MJ is Schedule I

      It is not merely illegal under federal law but it is placed in the most restrictive schedule which is reserved for drugs that have no medicinal value and are highly addictive and it is thus not even scientifically valid let alone good policy

      Rand Paul is allegedly a medical doctor and should know that whatever his stupid policy stance is that it is simply unscientific and contrary to medical evidence to place marijuana in the schedule reserve for highly addictive drugs

      I am sorry but he does not deserve a pass for this it is utterly ridiculous and there are plenty of people languishing away in federal prison for marijuana offenses so it most definitely is a federal issue

      Really in some respects he’s not just wrong on the policy but he’s such obviously a complete Square. Does it have something to do with his distaste toward stoners? Stoners fucking suck ass but so what so do fat people in spandex. Neither belong in Prison

      Rand Paul is screwing the fucking pooch on this and he does not deserve a pass!!!

      Real deep beauty! Muscle, form, and sexyness

  15. I might expect Senator Al Franken to be on board as well.

  16. So the hippie generation and their kids! All of which are being im down this country!
    The marines allow 14,000 drug waivers a year and look at what that gets them

  17. And there lies the huge disconnect between our politicians and the people. They’re either woefully ignorant or they’re being paid to hold to the morally bankrupt policy of prohibition.

  18. How is marijuana worse than alcohol?

    1. This is a good question 😉

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