Democrats don’t need to embrace marijuana legalization

Having suffered many indignities at the tweet-happy hands of the unmannered Yankee president he played a pivotal role in getting elected, our beleaguered attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, has taken solace in the only thing that brings joy these days to his sullen heart: messing with minorities and young people, this time by rescinding the Obama-era guidance on state marijuana legalization.

The decision by Republicans to take such a clearly unpopular stand has led thoughtful people on the left to argue Democrats should embrace legalization full stop. They reason:

1. It’ll excite young voters

2. It’s popular

3. It benefits minorities

4. It could help with opioid addiction

These thoughtful people are wrong.

To be clear, I support marijuana legalization. Democrats should be cautious about advocating legalization at the national level though.

Young voters already appear energized based on election results in NJ, VA and AL. Republicans’ abandonment of the center has made it easier, not tougher, for Democrats to stake the middle, “responsible” ground, while still appealing to young voters.

Legalization has gotten more popular so rapidly in part because moderate and even Republican voters are on board so far. If Democrats embrace full legalization, “negative partisanship” will kick in, causing Republicans and conservative media to turn more vociferously against it.

Republicans may soon have some ammunition in their eternal struggle against the hippies. While state legalization experiments have gone well overall, they have not been without negative consequences.

Colorado and Washington were well-suited for legalization since in-state marijuana production was high and marijuana was already de facto legal (especially for white people haha). So legalization didn’t produce a “shock” to the system.

In other states, marijuana dealers are more connected to the interstate (and perhaps even international) drug trade, and marijuana use would probably increase after legalization (in CO and WA, it stayed flat). California will be a more interesting test case, but it still won’t be a great match for Texas, Ohio, or even New York.

Just look at the careful balance struck by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who knows more about the politics of legalization than national Democrats, for guidance.

Democrats’ supposed cowardice on this issue is often compared to their reluctance in supporting same-sex marriage. But this misconstrues Democrats’ amazingly successful same-sex marriage strategy.

The United States, more religious than any other Western nation, legalized same-sex marriage by constitutional fiat in 2015. That’s only a year or two after France and the United Kingdom legalized same-sex marriage by acts of parliament. Many American states legalized same-sex marriage before countries in Europe (except Holland, of course — they were first). Ireland and Australia legalized same-sex marriage after we did.

Slow-walking support for same-sex marriage allowed it to remain a nonpartisan issue. Obergefell was famously helped along by prominent Republican and Democratic lawyers. Advocacy for same-sex marriage focused on personal responsibility, dignity and family. At times, the movement took on an almost religious tenor. All that might have been made more difficult had it been viewed as a partisan, Democratic cause associated with the cultural left.

To be sure, Democrats shouldn’t return to the “law and order” outlook of the 90’s. Crime is falling in most places, and the awful toll taken by the “War on Drugs” on poor and minority communities has been well documented.

But there is a wide gulf between Republicans’ backward, outdated position and full legalization. Removing marijuana from Schedule I should be a no-brainer. Decriminalization and medial use should also be supported pretty much everywhere.

Democrats can certainly feel free to embrace legalization if they want without much repercussion, especially in states where Republican politicians are also favorably disposed towards legalization. But elsewhere, Democrats should probably stay focused on states rights, medical marijuana to help opioid addiction, and criminal justice reform besides marijuana legalization to address racial disparity, thereby keeping legalization-skeptics unruffled.

Don’t worry, full legalization will come soon enough 😊

Coming nationwide soon!… But not immediately

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