Are the Democrats really going to try full, federal marijuana legalization as an election strategy?

This is an article that caught my attention last week but I hadn’t gotten around to digging into it until today. Over at National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out that the House of Representatives was going to take up a potentially historic (?) vote during their session later this month. They’ll be looking at a bill that would legalize marijuana on a national level, something that’s never faced a full vote before. That sound you hear in the background is a ton of people in Seattle ceasing smashing storefront windows, dropping their crowbars and sledgehammers and saying, “Yes? You have our attention.” But as Ramesh points out, this issue breaks down far differently between the parties than it did as little as a decade ago.

The issue splits both parties. While it was mostly Democrats who backed legalization on the House Judiciary Committee, they were joined by two Republicans: Representatives Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.).

The Democratic ticket itself is split, with Senator Kamala Harris in favor and Joe Biden against legalization. And while public opinion has shifted in favor of legalization, the Democratic platform has moved in the opposite direction.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been all that surprised, but Ramesh was definitely right about the Democrats. During the big DNC meeting, the delegates held a vote on whether to include full legalization of marijuana as a plank in this year’s platform. The measure failed 105-60, which isn’t even close. Instead, they stuck with their more wishy-washy support for “decriminalization.” How many of them really feel that’s the best solution as opposed to the ones who only voted that way because that’s the position Joe Biden holds remains unknown.

So how will the vote go this month? Joe Biden is still the nominee and not much has changed, so I would expect it to fail in a similar fashion, though not in a landslide. You could reasonably expect some of the Republicans in the House to be in favor, particularly the ones from the west coast and parts of the northeast. The last Gallup polling on the question of legalization showed that 51% of Republicans and 48% of self-identified conservatives favor legalization. But if Joe is still saying no, you likely won’t get enough Democrats on board to sustain a majority.

Even if you did, you’d still have to get past the Senate. Despite his favored nickname of Cocaine Mitch, the Majority Leader doesn’t seem interested in such a battle nor is he traditionally a supporter of the idea. And it also sounds unlikely to tempt President Trump into a signature while he’s fighting tooth and claw to hang on to every base vote he can for November. In other words, I wouldn’t start stocking up on rolling papers just yet.

My own feelings on this subject have changed over time. For quite a while, I saw no point in keeping something as relatively harmless and nonaddictive as pot on the Schedule 1 list. It was my more libertarian side showing through and I would frequently claim that if it shouldn’t be the government’s business to ban alcohol or tobacco, marijuana should be in the same general barrel. But in more recent years I’ve seen compelling studies indicating that long-term use of the more powerful strains of marijuana out there today can result in issues with psychosis. If that’s true, perhaps we shouldn’t rush into this too quickly.

And besides, have you looked outside or turned on the television recently? It’s 2020, folks. Surely we have enough stuff going up in the smoke at the moment that we don’t need to toss this grenade into the mix before we get past the next elections.

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John Sexton 8:40 PM on September 21, 2023
David Strom 6:41 PM on September 21, 2023