Why Does Everyone Think Marijuana Legalization is Politically Risky?

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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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I do think we are seeing a change world wide in a near future!



it will help reduce drug related crimes reduce the younger users of the soft drug and help the economy greatly. Vote to legalize.!!

first they needed proof

that legal marijuana could be as profitable as criminalized marijuana and now that they have it a negotiated transition protecting their income will be implimented, only with that in place will we see decrim

Thanks Scott for being smart

I read Klein's piece and take away different thoughts, you again are on point. Thanks for being on our side.


I completely agree with the authors stance that there is no basis for the argument that prohibition reform is political suicide. Ron Paul has been for the legalization of not just marijuana, but ALL drugs on the federal level, allowing states to decide without persecution (medical marijuana raids come to mind). Ron Paul is still a representative despite his never changing stance in the 80's and personally long before then I'm sure.

Crusade For A More Interesting Environment

Can you please change the pictures on the side bars? They're getting boring to look at.


I agree with both Scott and Kline

I agree with Kline that it is politically risky in that the demagogues will crawl out of the woodwork as they always do.

And I agree with Scott that it is not as politically risky as many politicians today fear it to be.

But politicians will still see it as politically risky UNLESS they have two things.

1. Strong counter arguments to level at the demagogues.

2. Confidence that they have popular support that will stand up to the demagogues and stand up for them.

I have been universally disappointed in the failings of all of the otherwise great columns and articles that have come out lately in that they do not give enough strong counter argument for the basic demagogic rants such as the 'for the children' rant.

And I firmly believe that popular protests against the drug war in the streets of Washington, D.C. and the state capitals gives politicians confidence that they have popular support for their changes in policy.

The 'for the children' rant is probably the most fear inspiring rhetoric in the prohibitionist tool box. I have been sending both politicians and writers of columns a counter argument in hopes that it will help them be more assertive in countering the thugs. The argument works for me in online debates and it should work for politicians and columnists too.

Simply put the prohibition does NOT protect children from drugs. In fact it exposes more children to drugs. Under prohibition drug sales are left to the morals and ethics of addicts, abusers and gangsters who have a vested interest in growing sales to new generations. Under legalization and regulation sales would be in the licensed hands of responsible adult supervision that shares society's values about keeping drugs from children. Prohibition leaves drug sales to people happy to sell to children. Legalization leaves drug sales to people who have licensed legal responsibility to keep drugs from children.

I have been using this argument for about two years and have never had a prohibitionist refute it. Some reformers argue that dealers are not really bad people. These folks are not helping the advancement of reform and I work hard to ignore them and not take the bate. But prohibitionists do not have a counter argument for responsible adult supervision being better control than addicts and gangsters.

One other point

It is up to us to make opposing drug reform risky for politicians. We have come a long way toward doing just that. Obama is obviously acting stuck between the large scale public anger of reformers for his timidity and his support for escalating and militarizing the status quo.

Sure Rush (to judgement) Limbaugh has 12-million sycophants but reform has three or four times that in online activists who helped to get Obama elected and down deep Obama knows this.

Whenever and however we need to raise the stakes on Obama and the congress. Make it clear to them that we are a force as sure and strong as Obama learned in the medical pot bust controversy of February. We need to use the power of our masses and the power of our electoral validity to threaten the political viability of both Obama and the congress.

The February 19, 2009 Rasmussen poll found 40% of Americans feel marijuana should be legalized. "40% say it should be, while 46% disagree. Fourteen percent (14%) are not sure which course is better." That 14% could easily translate reform into a majority and no politician can ignore that fact.

The Zogby poll in Sept. 2008, that was posted here, asked these questions:

1. Do you feel the U.S. war on drugs is working, or is it failing? 4730 respondents
War on drugs is working 11.1%
War on drugs is failing 76%
Not sure 12.9%

2. Which of the following do you feel is the single best way to handle the War on Drugs? 4730 respondents

Prevent production of narcotics at
their country of origin 12.7%

Stopping drugs at the U.S. border 24.8%

Reducing demand through
treatment and education 18.7%

Legalizing some drugs in the U.S. 27.5%

Ending the War on Drugs 8.2%

Not sure/none of the above 8.1%

Question 2 is the most interesting because it breaks down philosophically. The first two responses are basically status quo pro drug war and total 37.5% of respondents. Responses three, four and five essentially reflect attitudes sympathetic to reforming the failed war on drugs and they total 54.4% of respondents.

Point these facts out to politicians in letters to them and letters to your local media. Don't allow the demagogues to keep the politicians in a deer in the headlights state of fear just because the demagogues have radio waves and a small horde of mindless ranting sycophants.

We have reason. We have facts. and most important, we have what is morally and ethically right on our side. We stand for public safety, national security, public health, social justice and protection of American children. The demagogues have none of that. The demagogues 'just say no'.

Its the Drug War Demagogues

Who go to city council meetings about local policing policy.

Its the demagogues who go to state legislative hearings on drug and criminal justice related committee hearings.

Its the demagogues who pack the congressional hearings.

Drug policy reform is not a presence in government hearings.

Drug policy reform is not a presence, in mass, on the streets of America.

This is why politicians fear the demagogues more than they fear reformers. Fear is the only thing that motivates politicians. When we are in the faces of politicians more and more loudly than are the demagogues then the politicians will listen to our perspective. That is how democracy works.

Surrendering the drug markets and our youth to the drug lords

Surrender is not an option. Our politicians have been surrendering billions of dollars every year to criminals who are destroying our communities and youth. I repeat Surrender is not an option.

Politicians created the...

...so-called third rail of drug prohibition. Now some say they must not step on it for fear of angering the demogogues and the proletariat? Suggestion, if the third rail does currently exist, they should kick it to death...for freedom and common sense.

It's riskier to NOT oppose our current drug policies!

In Kirkland Washington, I attended a screening of "Marijuana : It's time for a Conversation", hosted by Rick Steves, and there was also a panel discussion with Rick, a former judge and member of LEAP as well as the local state representative for the district (not my district).

The representative (Roger Goodman) told an interesting story about his run for office the last couple election cycles. When he first ran, he always advocated for scientific and harm reduction policies in regards to drug control, rather than our current state of criminalization. He is a staunch anti-prohibitionist, who believes something can not be controlled and regulated unless it is legal.
His opponent, a republican, had sent out mailers prior to the election letting voters know that Goodman was "soft on drugs" and wouldn't you know it, Goodman's approval numbers went up immediately following the mailer, and his opponent's went down.

This was 2 election cycles ago, and his most recent republican opponent was actually in attendance at this very same event, along with numerous upstanding people from the community including corporate lawyers, school teachers and administrators, and the audience was made up of mostly older constituents. I was probably one of the youngest people there at 24.

It varies by region and area, but in WA state at least, it is becoming more of a political liability to support our current drug policies.

Was once opposed

I was once opposed marijuana being legalized, but with the current state of our economy -- I think for revenue reasons alone it is worth making it legal and taxing it.


only thing folks are afraid of are police

they will resort to any thing to protect thier drug war even murder .it happens all the time untill these crimnals are reigned in the war will continue

Legalization and increased use of marijuana

Legalization does not lead to increased consumption.
The Netherlands has allowed sales of weed to anyone over 18 for years. Essentially anyone can get it. Yet surveys show their teenagers are far less likely to use pot (either once or on a regular basis) than those in Great Britain or the United States. And their kids consistantly do better in school than ours. (See results from International Math and Science testing).
Prohibition does not prevent people from using marijuana.
Dispite billions of dollars spent on "The War on Drugs", and an ever rising number of arrests each year (876,720 in 2008), demand for marijuana and the percentage of people using it on a regular basis has remained relatively constant for the past 30 years.
There is an ancient martial arts saying:
"In a snow storm the Oak tree stands rigid and unbending against the mounting snow. It remains this way until the weight of the snow finally breaks the limb or the tree. The Willow tree, on the other hand, remains bending & flexible, giving way a little when the weight is too much, but always bouncing back to survive."
Our national drug policies for the past 30 years have been that of the Oak tree--Absolutely rigid and unbending in it "zero tollerance". And hence, it is broken. It's time to try a different strategy, one that bends a little

Re: Legalization does not lead to increased consumption.

Legalization does not lead to increased consumption.
The Netherlands has allowed sales of weed to anyone over 18 for years.

Marijuana has been quasi-regulated since 1976 and its use by the Dutch is half what it is here in the states.

Netherlands For Nobel Peace Prize! Reward Marijuana Sanity!

Netherlands For Nobel Peace Prize! Reward Marijuana Sanity!

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is beginning the New Year by coordinating the nomination of the Netherlands for a Nobel Prize for its achievements in minimizing drug use in its citizens, while at the same time restricting imprisonment.

read more here: http://mrlunk.blogspot.com/2009/04/netherlands-for-nobel-peace-prize.html


if we applied the same logic used for making cannabis illegal, possession of a gasoline -powered vehicle with intent to drive should be punishable by death.
We could run this country effectively with two laws; we had 'em in kindergarten: Keep your hands and feet to yourself; and when the bell rings, close your mouth and get to work.

Token Conservative

To "One other point",

I listen to Rush Limbaugh about once a week. I support the cause of re-legalizing marijuana. Not because I use it (I don't use any illegal substances or even tobacco). Not because you want to get high but because of freedom. American freedom is the most desired commodity in the history of the world.

If adults want to consume a plant (made by God) in the privacy of their home - and do not ever give it to minors - then that is your right. The government should not be involved in what goes on in your own home unless you are harming another individual or being irresponsible with minors.

Here's a tip: STOP BASHING CONSERVATIVES on this one issue. In order to overturn these (IMHO) anti-American laws against certain substances you NEED at least some conservatives to vote with you. If you take out your personal frustration on us you will lose the war. The answer:

Make peace with conservatives on this one issue. You can win... I hope you do.

I don't

bash conservatives specifically because I know, and have known for dozens of years, that real conservatives do not support authoritarian policies that erode personal liberty.

I very specifically bash the right-wing. The right-wing that dominates both the GOP and the DNC leadership.

The right-wing are authoritarians who will escalate to fascism if not contained. I have fought them my whole life and will fight them until the day I die.

Any conservative

who doesn't support at least decriminalization (if not legalization) is a conservative in name only. One of the hallmarks of a small government would be not having any laws against things consenting adults do or victimless crimes. (ie; ingesting substances, sexual practices, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, etc)

They're talking about it so they don't have to do anything.

America Will. Not. Legalise. Drugs.

One big reason? Liquidity.

Drug cash is helping keep the world economy from crashing harder.
I can't imagine that the powerful but illiquid are going to give up that bounteous flow... just to see the government get tax revenues worth a tiny fraction of what illegality generates?

Obama said that wrt medical marijuana that the states' laws would be respected... and yet a day or so later a dispensary in San Francisco was raided. Where's the trust there? You can't have meaningful dialog with people whom you cannot trust.

They are letting us blow off steam. It's simple: make people *feel* like action is being taken, like this is being "fairly discussed". They're doing the same thing Mickey D's does when a store's employees start talking union -- they pretend to listen and sympathise, validating the employees feelings, giving them strokes. But the aim is to stop the union, not to take care of employee concerns.

In this situation, we are the employees. We are being given a chance to talk about this, to be validated. But you'll notice that no one except the choir is really following the preaching. Everyone else is saying stuff that sounds promising but means nothing and will ultimately not dirty them when the whole backlash comes and knocks our pieces off the board. They're counting on that backlash, and they'll tell us, "Gee, sorry guys, it seemed like a great idea but The Children will be at risk and crime will go up...".

Another scenario -- they do a limited legalisation and then highlight any and all failures of the system (setting up a few just in case) and make it look like a disaster. Then they will be able to say that they tried legalisation but that drugs are obviously just too dangerous for us to have.

All they'd have to do is quote misleading statistics of increasing drug use, highlight a couple cases where a child gets hurt and there happen to be drugs on the premises... it won't take much. Most folks fear drugs because of brainwashing; they're just grasping at straws that promise some relief from economic terror -- they think of legalisation as a possibly necessary evil, to be dispensed with ASAP.

I sure hope I'm wrong!

Its unpopular among the political class

The sad fact is that politicians dont rely solely on the will of their constituents to make decisions. They need the support of their fellow politicians, union and PAC leaders, thinks tanks, etc, and among these kinds of groups the idea of legalization is extremely unpopular. The recent ballot initiative in Massachusetts was opposed by every virtually every prominent politician and political leader in the state. If it had been a legislative initiative it would have been easily defeated. That is why it is political suicide to support legalization, despite its overwhelming support among the general population.

Third Rail

This is why it's critical for the mainstream media to be constantly encouraged to put prohibitionists on the spot by asking tough questions in the national spotlight.

Just because many politicians won't touch the third rail doesn't mean the third rail won't touch them.

There isn't one point the prohibitionists can make to defend drug prohibition. Not one. That simple fact needs to be directly delivered to the public majority until supporting drug prohibition (or any other 'ban use to stop abuse regardless of the unalienable right to liberty' policy) becomes the new third rail.

Its not politically risky

Its deadly risky because prohibitionists are terrorists which fraudulently occupy the earth and commit legalized crimes against humanity. Prohibition terrorists deserve to die violently and slowly while tasting there own petrochemiceutical bosses poison petrochemiceuticals!

Double standard based legalized crime

Is the same or worse than organized crime because it somehow justifies politicians and police to behave as terrorists,serial killers,etc. We need the military to remove these prohibition based terrorists. The military removed Saddam ? The prohibition terrorists are just as cruel and then some

fix all of this

The fastest and most logical thing to do would be for Canadians and Americans to vote in mass for the third parties respectively. The demacons in the US and the liberal conservatives in Canada have held power far too long for any democracy. The arrogance of these criminals and back scratchers can only be dealt with at the polls. They have written enough laws to protect them from lynchings and protests. Police are showing up at protests before the protestors because of possible violence that may or may not materialize. Try getting a cop to help your personal situation before a crime has been commited.
Stop thinking of yourselves as left or right, conservative or liberal. You are none of those things. They are labels used to seperate you from him. divide and conquer. They seperate you at the polls and then they work together as one party calling it bi-partisan effort. The drug war is just another knot on the whip they use to control you with. All the while they laugh at you for your crazy drugged out, dirty hippie, peace loving, terrorist supporting, narcocriminal ideas on reform. Vote for the third! Vote for the third! Shock the world! Save it at the same time

Stop calling them police and policy makers!

They are terrorists which fraudulently occupy your community as long as they use double standard based legalized crime,war mongering and wars against people and drugs just because global corporate stock market frauds racket pays them to hijack everyone.


Weed is good

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