Emerging 2012 strategy for Democrats: Marijuana

I’ve been trying to tell you that it’s time to get out in front of this issue.

And now … it’s too late.

Some pollsters and party officials say Democratic candidates in California are benefiting from a surge in enthusiasm among young voters eager to back Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in certain quantities and permit local governments to regulate and tax it.

Party strategists and marijuana-legalization advocates are discussing whether to push for similar ballot questions in 2012 in Colorado and Nevada—both expected to be crucial to President Barack Obama’s re-election—and Washington state, which will have races for governor and seats in both houses of Congress.

Democratic strategists liken the marijuana effort to the 2004 ballot drives to ban gay marriage in Ohio and 10 other states…

Democratic pollster Andrew Myers found in a December 2009 survey in Colorado that 45% of Obama “surge voters”—people voting for the first time in 2008—said they would be more interested in turning out again if marijuana legalization were on the ballot. “If you are 18 to 29, it’s far and away the most compelling reason to go out and vote,” Mr. Myers said.

Young voters are expected to comprise 11 percent of the turnout at the polls in California this year compared to eight percent nationwide and just 6.5 percent in the last California midterm in 2006. The GOP knows how to play this game too, of course, and not only in the gay-marriage context mentioned in the article: Assuming ObamaCare’s popularity stays nice and low, expect plenty more Missouri-type ballot initiatives about the individual mandate two years from now. As for the present, though, this finding raises an intriguing question: Since the Democrats are utterly desperate to limit losses next month by turning out young voters, why didn’t they go for broke and push the idea that they’ll legalize weed as a matter of federal law next year if they hold Congress? Sure, it’s risky insofar as it’ll freak out conservatives and seniors, but conservatives and seniors are already set to turn out against them in droves. Why not do what you can to jazz your own base? They could limit the damage in red states by stressing that states are still free to criminalize whatever drugs they like and, if they’re really feeling bold, could even pitch it to fiscal conservatives as a necessary cost-saving measure in our new age of austerity. Heck, Glenn Beck would probably come out in favor, thereby instantly disarming any sort of coordinated front in major right-wing media. And with unemployment expected to stay stuck above nine percent for the foreseeable future, Americans are surely eager for something to help kill the pain from Hopenchange. Seriously, what do they have to lose at this point? Be bold, Barry!