John Hanger isn’t a viable candidate for Governor by his own admission, but his views on marijuana decriminalization are right on the money, and I hope we will see some of the more plausible Democratic nominees adopt his position on this.
There’s an old chestnut of campaign wisdom that goes something like “it’s not what you say about your issues, but what your issues say about you” which tends to make candidates squeamish about this issue. But I think the polling has moved sufficiently far in favor of decriminalization of marijuana, and today’s prohibitionist arguments are so weak that Democrats won’t pay any political price for supporting it.
Here’s what I believe is the latest polling from Terry Madonna back in May:
Of these, the legalization of marijuana is arguably the litmus test of whether one is culturally conservative or liberal. Not surprisingly Pennsylvanians still oppose recreation marijuana, 54% oppose while 38% approve. Quite surprising, however, is that support for recreation marijuana has increased almost 75% in the past seven years. In 2006, barely a fifth (22%) approved, but approvals now approach four in ten Pennsylvania voters (38%). Even more dramatic, a stunning 72% of voters opposed recreational marijuana in 2006; today, it is slightly more than half opposing (54%).
At this rate of change a majority of Pennsylvanians might favor recreational marijuana before this decade ends and possibly sooner.
The thing to watch here is the Oppose number. It’s 54%, but is this a voting issue for many of them? Probably not. Marijuana policy reformers have been so successful in recent years because they’ve gotten people to care less about marijuana, not more. They’ve changed it from a highly charged culture war issue that some people on the fringes of politics care so much about, into an issue with all the trappings of a mainstream professional advocacy campaign. The message is that it’s just not really a big deal, and that criminalization may be the worst possible way to control the harms associated with it.
I happen to agree with Mark Kleiman that “tax and regulate” is too simplistic, and that the second-worst policy framework may be full commercialization of marijuana. But there are in-between positions (decriminalizing use and cultivation, but not sales, etc) that I think the other Democrats could comfortably take without signaling to the electorate that they are dirty hippies. The key is letting people grow a few plants themselves, or trade in non-profit co-ops, without allowing the Budweiser of pot to come into being.