Pubdate: Thu, 10 Apr 2014
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2014 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Steve Chapman
Page: 21


Legalizing marijuana is an issue made to order for the Democratic 
Party. A majority of Americans now support the idea, and so do 2 out 
of 3 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 Rodham 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 

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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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom