The Republican Party's pot dilemma

What opposition remains is concentrated among Republicans. According to Gallup, only about a third of Democrats and independents now oppose legalization, compared to nearly two-thirds of Republicans. Opponents of legalization are also disproportionately elderly. The situation closely parallels the party’s predicament on gay marriage, which most Republicans still oppose even as widening majorities of the broader public support it.

It adds up to a quandary for the GOP: Should it embrace the unpopular position still disproportionately favored by its members and risk marginalization as a result? Or will the burgeoning conservative voices in favor of legalization win out? Simply put, do Republicans want to be on the losing side of yet another culture war?

For the CPAC panel’s audience, which was passionate and disproportionately young, the answer was clearly no. College students wearing “Stand With Rand” stickers in honor of the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Senator Rand Paul expressed their distrust for marauding government agents; a cowboy-hatted former policeman in a “Cops Say Legalize Pot” T-shirt asked Beach, “How do you justify morally the deaths of dozens and dozens of kids on your altar of prohibition?” A writer for Reason magazine cited good results from legalization in Portugal.

One questioner took a personal swipe at Beach’s boss, alluding to the decade-old revelation that Bennett lost millions gambling to ask whether Beach thought gambling should also be banned.