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September 7, 2010

American democracy getting a contact high from pot prohibition debate

As detailed in this effective new ABC News story, which is headlined "Politics of Pot: Marijuana on Four Ballots Energizes Political Debate," it appears that the institutions of American democracy are getting a buzz from recent debates over pot policy and politics. Here are excerpts from the piece:

Marijuana is on the ballot in four states this November, including the first effort of its kind in California to fully legalize pot, but don't expect politicians to get high on the idea any time soon.

In what could become another hot button political issue this November, Democrats in California are divided over Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana use and allow government to make money off of it by imposing new regulations and taxes....

While polls show increasing support over the years among Americans for full legalization of marijuana, the majority still prefers the status quo.  An Associated Press-CNBC poll released in April found that 33 percent of Americans favored legalization of pot, while an overwhelming 55 percent opposed it.  An earlier ABC News/Washington Post poll released in January found 46 percent support for legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use....

Gary Johnson, former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, supports legalization of marijuana and argues that it will lead to a more effective fight against drugs. He blames the stalemate on the federal government and on both Republicans and Democrats.

"For the most part, politics is about following the herd as opposed to providing leadership," Johnson, who is speculated to be considering a run for the White House in 2012, told ABC News. "For me, it was a cost-benefit analysis, period. It's the fact that half of what we spend in law enforcement and the courts and the prisons is drug related, to what end?"

Johnson disagrees with the idea that dabbling in the politics of drugs would be harmful -- he cites his own approval rating as governor, saying it was steady even after he made his position known. "It's a really good political issue because it's the truth. It's the emperor wears no clothes," he said.

Initiatives opening up the passage of medical marijuana use will be up for a vote in three states -- Oregon, Arizona and South Dakota. If the measures pass, these three states would join 14 other states and Washington, D.C., where medical marijuana use is legal.

Support for medicinal use, unlike full legalization, is still strong. An ABC News/Washington Post poll in January found that 81 percent of Americans supported medical marijuana laws....

Regardless, supporters say the fact that such a measure is on the ballot is still a step forward. California is the second state to dabble in such a measure. Earlier this year a marijuana-legalization bill in Washington state was struck down by the legislature.

Proposition 19 is the "opening stage of the modern era of modern reform," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for legalization of marijuana. "Whether Proposition 19 wins or loses, it's already a winner," Nadelmann told ABC News. "What it's done is legitimized and elevated a discussion about marijuana policy in a way that has never happened before. It's generated a level and seriousness and sophistication of dialogue and debate unlike what we've had before. This is the first time you have members of Congress saying they will vote for it."

Nadelmann and other proponents of the ballot initiative equate it to gay rights, in that "people are coming out of the closet and defeating the notion that they need to be punished for engaging in this 'deviant activity.'"...

While support for decriminalizing marijuana has gained momentum, especially in Washington and California, at the federal level the subject remains a sensitive one. Rand Paul, the GOP libertarian-leaning Senate candidate in Kentucky whose father supports legalization, illustrated that when he famously reversed his position -- initially supporting medical marijuana usage but then shifting his stance, telling the Associated Press this month he opposes legalization of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes.

Members of Congress say discussions on the issue have been brewing but have yet to surface. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is an outspoken advocate of states' rights when it comes to legalizing marijuana and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has also spoken widely in favor of legalizing it. But there has been mostly silence from the Senate on this issue.

Some related posts on pot policy and politics:

September 7, 2010 at 03:59 PM | Permalink

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