How Many Anti-Pot Politicians Will be Ousted Before They Realize the Will of the Majority?

Federal politicians from both leading parties continue to presume, falsely, that marijuana law reform is insignificant to the American people.

At a  recent campaign stop in Colorado, a CBS news reporter questioned Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney on a number of issues relevant to Centennial State voters. Among them was marijuana. Romney, appearing visibly agitated, did not take kindly to the inquiry.

“Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?” Romney barked, before veering off into prototypical Reefer Madness territory: “I think marijuana should not be legal in this country. I believe it is a gateway drug to other drug violations. The use of illegal drugs in this country is leading to terrible consequences in places like Mexico -- and actually in our country.

Aside from the irony of a lifelong social conservative balking at the opportunity to pontificate on camera regarding what is no doubt one of the leading social issues of the day, little else in Romney’s reply is surprising. After all, this is the same man who at a campaign gathering in New Hampshire in 2007 abruptly walked away from an 80-pound, wheelchair-bound muscular dystrophy patient who credited his use of marijuana for keeping him alive. (Watch the video here.) “I’m not in favor of medical marijuana,” Romney stated curtly at that time. In the five year’s since, it’s apparent that Romney has neither revisited his position nor, by his own admission, taken steps to further educate himself as to the issue of marijuana in general. (“I have no idea what industrialized hemp is,” Romney acknowledged at another recent campaign stop.)
Nevertheless, the wanna-be President’s belief that the cannabis issue is insignificant to voters in Colorado, and to the general electorate at large, is startling – and could be costly to his political aspirations. In Colorado alone, an estimated 100,000 residents are authorized to grow and possess cannabis for therapeutic purposes under state law, including some 15 percent of all residents living in the Mile High City. (Nationwide, well over one million Americans are now estimated to be using marijuana medicinally in compliance with the laws of their states, 17 of which now recognize the medical utility of pot.) In recent years, Colorado state officials have licensed several hundred brick-and-mortar retail outlets to dispense cannabis – a move that has allowed for the creation of several thousand local jobs and has raised several millions of dollars in new revenue. (Two other states, Maine and New Mexico, also presently license medical marijuana dispensaries; four additional states – Arizona, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont – as well as the District of Columbia, are presently in the process of doing so.) And this coming November, at the same time voters will be deciding their next President, Coloradoans will also be deciding the fate of A 64 – a constitutional amendment that seeks to allow for the legalization and regulation of cannabis for all adults. Yet, to hear Romney tell it, American voters don’t particularly care about cannabis. 
As if.
Try telling that to US Attorney Dwight Holton. On Wednesday, the Democrat former front-runner for the position of Oregon Attorney General went down to defeat at the hands of retired state appeals court judge Ellen Rosenblum (also a Democrat). One of the keys to Rosenblum’s unexpected victory: her public advocacy for medical marijuana – a stance that, not surprisingly, resonated in a state that boasts some 55,000 registered medical cannabis patients. By contrast, Holton campaigned on the premise that the state’s voter-approved medical cannabis law was a “train-wreck” and pledged to, if elected, work with select lawmakers to gut the 13-year-old law. The tactic failed big time, as marijuana law reformers quickly galvanized behind Holton’s opponent and provided significant funding to the Rosenblum campaign – resulting in an almost 2-to-1 landslide victory at the polls. 
The Oregon experience was not unlike that of a previous state Attorney General’s race in California in 2010. In that contest, marijuana law reformers unified behind Democrat candidate Kamala Harris of pot-friendly San Francisco and against Republican Steven Cooley, who, as Los Angeles District Attorney, had spearheaded a major law enforcement crackdown on the city’s medical cannabis facilities. The support of the reform community likely provided Harris with the slight margin of victory needed to defeat her Republican challenger, who received only 39 percent support in his home county. Among the majority of Los Angeles voters the election was a no contest: cannabis was far more popular than Cooley. 
One would think that candidate Romney would be learning from these life lessons, but he isn’t. Neither is his party. Last week, House Republicans led the charge to defeat a bipartisan budgetary amendment that sought to limit the use of taxpayers’ dollars to fund Department of Justice and DEA operations targeting medical marijuana consumers and operators who are compliant with state law. (During the floor debate, Republican Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia likened the physician-supervised, state-authorized use of medicinal cannabis to that of engaging in “sexual trafficking.”) Two-hundred-and-twelve Republicans (88 percent of GOP House members who cast votes) decided against the measure, which was ultimately defeated 262 to 163. (Ironically, during Romney’s CBS interview, he specifically referred to marijuana as a “states issue;” apparently the majority of his political brethren in Congress disagree.)
Yet, only days later a nationwide Mason-Dixon poll of 1,000 likely voters once again reaffirmed that the majority of Washington DC is wholly out-of-step with the public’s sentiment regarding cannabis. According to the poll, 74 percent of respondents – including 67 percent of self-identified Republicans – believe that the federal government should “respect the medical marijuana laws” in those states that have legalized its use, cultivation, and distribution. Only 15 percent of those polled said they supported the federal government's use of “federal resources to arrest and prosecute individuals who are acting in compliance” with the medicinal cannabis laws of their state.
Nonetheless, to this day the Obama administration continues to act in a manner that marches in lockstep with will of this 15 percent, while turning its back on everyone else – with even the President himself going so far as to violate a campaign pledge to do so. So the question remains: How much longer will federal politicians from both leading parties continue to presume, falsely, that marijuana law reform is insignificant to the American people? Or, perhaps the better question is: How many more would-be politicians need to be ousted before both party’s leadership begins to finally get the message?

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Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).