Pubdate: Fri, 24 Jul 2015
Source: Week, The (Delavan, WI)
Copyright: 2015 Bliss Communications Inc.
Author: Paul Waldman


On Thursday, Gallup released a poll showing that 44 percent of 
Americans have said they've tried marijuana, the largest number the 
survey has ever recorded.

This isn't too far off from what other polls have found (this Pew 
Research Center poll pegged the number at 49 percent), and given that 
people are being asked to admit to behavior that is illegal in most 
places, the true number is almost certainly higher.

So we're past the point where most American adults have tried pot, 
which helps explain why support for legalization has also become a 
majority position.

In 2016, there will be multiple legalization initiatives on state 
ballots, which could help drive turnout for Democrats and make the 
election of Hillary Clinton more likely - even if she's not a 
legalization supporter herself.

You can think about this as a tipping point, but it was going to 
happen eventually. Chances are that your grandmother never smoked pot 
simply because it wasn't part of her culture in her youth, so she 
never had the opportunity. As older generations die off, they're 
replaced by those who have more direct experience with it. While only 
22 percent of those over 65 in Gallup's data report having tried 
marijuana, 49 percent of those between 50 and 64 have, as have 50 
percent of those between 30 and 49. Only 37 percent of those between 
18 and 29 have tried it, presumably because it's the summer and many 
of the 18-year-olds haven't gotten to college yet (kidding - sort of).

At the very least, people who smoked pot at some point probably 
realize that it didn't immediately send them off to score some 
heroin, so they're likely to be more open to the idea of legalization 
than those for whom it's utterly foreign.

And it's millennials who are most strongly in favor of loosening the 
laws (68 percent of them in the Pew poll).

Those in the legalization movement are counting on those young people 
turning out in a presidential election year to push initiatives like 
the ones that legalized cannabis in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. 
While organizers are still plotting strategy and preparing petitions 
in many states, at the moment it looks like there could be 
legalization initiatives on the ballot in 2016 in Arizona, 
Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Missouri - and the big prize, 
California. California already has a medical marijuana system, which 
pretty much everyone agrees is a farce (let's just say it isn't hard 
to find a doctor who'll prescribe pot for your earlobe pain or fear 
of squirrels), and it would be a shock if voters there don't approve 
a legalized system.

Both Democrats and marijuana advocates are hoping there will be a 
turnout synergy at work: The initiative will bring out young people 
who are more likely to vote Democratic after they check the box for 
cannabis, and the higher Democratic turnout that a presidential year 
always produces will make the marijuana initiative more likely to 
prevail. That would help Democrats running for any office, and in a 
couple of those states it could provide a boost to Hillary Clinton, 
if she's the nominee.

Unlike her husband, who tried pot but famously didn't inhale, 
Clinton's answer to the personal experience question is no - while 
I'm sure there was quite a bit around Wellesley by the time she 
graduated in 1969, the straight-laced Hillary Rodham did not partake, 
and I doubt anyone disbelieves her. But on the policy issue, she has 
been far less clear.

Her position is that medicinal marijuana should be available for 
people in "extreme medical conditions." As for recreational 
availability, she has said that we should wait to see how things go 
in the states that have legalized it and then make a judgment.

Which is a reasonable position to take. That said, this issue will 
undoubtedly come up in the campaign, since there are questions about 
federal policy even if all the legalization happens at the state 
level, and she's going to be pressed to get more specific.

Should marijuana still be classified by the federal government as a 
Schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning it's treated the same way as 
cocaine or heroin?

Should VA doctors be allowed to prescribe it to veterans? On 
Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment 
prohibiting the Treasury Department from punishing banks that do 
business with marijuana establishments in states where they're 
operating legally (the lack of access to bank services has been a 
huge problem for marijuana-related businesses). Is that something 
Clinton supports?

What kind of instructions would she give to the Justice Department 
about how it operates in states where marijuana has been legalized?

Chances are that some if not all of the legalization initiatives on 
the ballot next year will pass, and others will be coming in future 
elections. That means more and more Americans will be living in 
states where marijuana use is legal by state law, but still illegal 
under federal law. So these questions of how the federal government 
approaches that conflict will become more acute.

It's safe to say that the next Republican administration will 
maintain the status quo, and even reverse the tentative moves the 
Obama administration has made to loosen some restrictions. But 
Clinton is going to have to say how she'd approach the issue.

And with legalization becoming more popular, particularly in her 
party, don't be surprised if Clinton begins a slow evolution in a 
more liberal direction on this issue, as she has on many others.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom