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Why Does Everyone Think Marijuana Legalization is Politically Risky?

Submitted by smorgan on
Over and over again, you hear that same justification, "Well, politicians can't publicly support legalizing marijuana or they'll get voted out of office." It's the first thing casual observers point out to me when I tell them I work on this issue. Everyone's gotten so used to saying it and yet no effort is ever made to support the argument. The idea that "marijuana reform is political suicide" survives on little more than its own presumed legitimacy.

Thus I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, to find Joe Klein at Time magazine saying this same stuff in an otherwise positive piece on marijuana reform:

…the default fate of any politician who publicly considers the legalization of marijuana is to be cast into the outer darkness. Such a person is assumed to be stoned all the time, unworthy of being taken seriously. Such a person would be lacerated by the assorted boozehounds and pill poppers of talk radio.

It sounds so familiar and yet it makes no sense. Talk radio doesn’t rule our politics. If it did, the top questions in Obama's online forums would be about his citizenship, not about legalizing marijuana. Heck, Obama wouldn’t even be president.

Where is Joe Klein getting this stuff from? Obama openly supported several reforms to our drug policy on the campaign trail and no one, not even Rush Limbaugh, said a harsh word about it. Obama was "caught" on video advocating marijuana decriminalization in 2004 and he got elected president. Once in office, Obama ordered the DEA to respect state medical marijuana laws and it's easily one of the least controversial things he's done.

I challenge Joe Klein or anyone else to prove that supporting marijuana policy reform is politically risky. I can only think of two instances that even approach validating any of this: 1) Michael Dukakis's failed presidential bid in 1988 in which he was successfully portrayed as "soft on crime," and 2) The controversy that arose following Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders' statement about considering drug legalization. That was 15 years ago.

It's 2009 and reforming marijuana policy is the most popular idea on the president's own website. Voters are passing state marijuana reform initiatives by incredible margins. Polls show that a majority of both democrats and republicans agree that the drug war is a failure.  

Either show me one good example of a modern politician paying a price for supporting marijuana reform, or stop claiming that this issue is politically risky.

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