Are Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker both top-tier? I think Gillibrand is. Booker? Eh, we’ll see. With a few acting lessons, the sky’s the limit.
This is of significant interest, not because you or I should care much about Democrats jockeying for the nomination right now but because it may be the start of a political chain reaction that will dramatically affect federal marijuana laws, and sooner than everyone expects.
Gillibrand and Booker announced their support for the Marijuana Justice Act of 2018 Wednesday afternoon on facebook live…
The bill would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and allow states to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana use. It would also provide states with federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color.
The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge’s review of marijuana sentences.
Not the first time they’ve worked together on this subject. They joined forces in 2015 as well to support legalizing medical marijuana. Three years later and several successful state referenda later, they’re ready to take the next step and call for legalizing marijuana altogether, at least at the federal level. How politically risky is that? Not all that risky, especially for Democrats. Not anymore:
An NBC poll taken 10 days earlier found a nearly identical figure of 60 percent in favor of legalization.
You can game out the politics to come on this as easily as I can. Knowing that his party’s base is tilting heavily towards legalization, especially younger voters, Booker seizes the issue by introducing the Marijuana Justice Act. Gillibrand, not wanting to be outflanked on her left by a likely 2020 opponent, moves to join him by co-sponsoring his bill. It’s a fait accompli that Kamala Harris, another 2020 sureshot, will join them both soon. (Harris is 53, Gillibrand is 51, and Booker is 48, all very young by the standards of Democratic contenders. This issue will help build their “brand” as part of a new generation of Dems.) Bernie Sanders, the very far-left elder statesman, has already come out in favor of legalizing weed as well. With a critical mass of Democratic candidates all in favor, supporting legalization will not only become a “safe” position to hold in the party (assuming it isn’t already), it may be a litmus test by 2020. Which is to say, the next election is now likely to feature a major-party nominee openly calling for legalizing marijuana. And even if Trump wins, the Overton window will shift. With one party aggressively in favor of ending the federal ban on weed and the other reluctantly opposed, with its strongest opponents aging out of the population, an end to prohibition is in sight.
Politico noted a week ago that Dem candidates fighting an uphill battle in red states this year have zeroed in on marijuana as a way to get Democratic voters interested in their races. If that strategy pays dividends this fall, it’s a cinch that the national party will be drawn to it in 2020:
In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent. In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-Governor Mike Pence—a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip. In fact, according to Canon, it has only gotten stronger, not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it…
Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent. Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.
Even more enticing for Democrats is Jeff Sessions’s decision to advise U.S. Attorneys to enforce federal marijuana laws even in states where the drug is legal. Sessions’s enthusiasm for that has been overstated — he hasn’t encouraged the Justice Department to make it a priority, merely reminded his deputies that they have the power to prosecute marijuana users. But as Trump’s AG and an outspoken drug warrior, he’s a lightning rod for liberal discontent with marijuana policy. Democrats will whip their voters this fall to make Jeff Sessions cry by electing pro-weed Dems and passing legalization referenda. And they’ll whip them even harder in 2020, when Trump himself will be on the ballot. Who knows how Trump will react to that, as he appears to be much less ardent a drug warrior than Sessions is.
Gillibrand’s move today is just one small step towards ending prohibition but the progression seems irreversible from here. Marijuana will be part of the mix in 2020 and the numbers don’t favor the GOP on that. Here she and Booker are chattering about legalization on Facebook this afternoon.