When Election Night 2012 rolls around, and multiple states have legalized marijuana by larger margins than they voted for President Obama, we will look back at the last two weeks of May and say that we saw it coming.
In the course of fourteen days, Democratic voters in Oregon and Texas soundly rejected heavily favored prohibitionist candidates in races which drug policy was seen as a defining issue. Excerpts of a new biography of President Obama were released, detailing young Barak and his friends’ involvement with marijuana use and culture in Hawaii. And a national Rasmussen poll showed support for marijuana prohibition accelerating toward total collapse.
Dwight Holton, scion of a Virginia political family, with strong national support, and a significant fundraising advantage, was supposed to win the Oregon Democratic Primary for Attorney General easily over former appeals court judge Ellen Rosenblum. But activists seized on Holton’s decision as the former US Attorney for Oregon to authorize raids on medical marijuana growers in the state, and his outspoken support for marijuana enforcement overall to turn marijuana into the “defining issue” of the campaign.
And while polling in the days before marijuana’s emergence in the campaign showed Holton with a small but significant lead, one month later, Holton lost in a landslide, 65-35%.
Two weeks later, and 2,000 miles away, on the Texas-Mexican border, eight-term incumbent congressman Silvestre Reyes lost 51-44% in a Democratic primary to Beto O’Rourke, a man who not only supports the legalization of marijuana, but who recently co-wrote a book critical of US drug policy. Reyes, the second most senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, is a dyed in the wool prohibitionist. He consistently attacked O’Rourke for his stance on marijuana, including an over the top “save the children from the legalizers” TV ad, to no avail.
Meanwhile, excerpts from David Maraniss’ upcoming biography of President Obama show a young man who, by the terms of the prohibition that he now supports, could have easily had his life and future derailed, not by marijuana, but by a misbegotten policy which casually and regularly destroys young people in the name of saving them.
Obama’s past marijuana use was not a revelation, he had freely admitted to it before. But the vividly normal picture that Maraniss paints of Barak and his friends puts the hypocrisy and destructiveness of our current marijuana laws in stark relief.
“In fact,” Maraniss writes, “most members of the Choom Gang were decent students and athletes who went on to successful and productive lawyers, writers and businessmen.”
Finally, there was last week’s national Rasmussen poll.
1,000 likely voters were asked whether they would support regulating marijuana like alcohol or tobacco. 56% said they would support regulation, with a stunningly low 36% opposed. This follows on the heels of last year’s Gallup poll, which, for the first time, showed a majority (50-46%) in favor of legalization. Just six years ago, Americans opposed legalization by a 36-60% margin.
Americans are not only rejecting prohibition, the pace an intensity of that rejection is increasing. A shift that once looked like it would take decades has instead happened in just a few years, and now looks likely to reach a decisive crescendo over the next few months.
This summer, Americans will hear lots more about the failures of marijuana prohibition as voters in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado prepare to vote on ballot initiatives that will turn the new cultural zeitgeist into a new governing reality. Based on the polling trend, the next five months may well turn a close question in three western states into a cultural landslide that will alter national policy completely. That would shock a lot of folks, but those of us who are paying attention now will look back on the events of last two weeks of May and say that we saw it coming.