The New York Times made history last weekend when they became the first national paper to call for marijuana legalization. What makes the news so huge is not only their position, but the passion and space they are giving to the issue. In addition to the lead editorial, “Repeal Prohibition, Again”, there is a six-part series on marijuana legalization with long, thoughtful editorials on related issues such as criminal justice, public health, regulatory models, and so forth.
It is now time for our elected leaders to come out for legalization. It is shocking to think that not a single one of the 50 U.S. governors or the 100 U.S. senators has endorsed marijuana legalization. As discerning analysts like Nate Silver have been noticing, there’s a particularly large gap between elite and popular opinion on marijuana policy.
It’s long past time to close that gap. Marijuana legalization is far from a risky position – in fact, it’s smart politics.
National polls showing majority support for marijuana legalization have been confirmed in states around the country – and not just in the states you’d expect, but even in places like Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas. Thirty-five states and our nation’s capital have laws acknowledging marijuana’s medical value, while Colorado and Washington are now legally regulating marijuana production and sales. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 72% of Americans believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 78% of independents, 71% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans.
When a U.S. governor or U.S. senator finally declares their support for marijuana legalization, it will be a clear winner for them and will generate a wave of positive press.
The public – and the media – are so tired of the failed drug war that when politicians do speak out, they get positive love and attention. Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky are getting kudos and props for their legislation to reform mandatory minimums. President Obama and Attorney General Holder have received praise – and no blowback – for allowing Colorado and Washington to move forward with legalization, and for their commitment to reducing the number of nonviolent drug offenders behind bars. Even the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, which seemingly can’t agree on anything, just voted to prohibit the federal government from interfering in states that have reformed their marijuana laws.
It is now time for our leaders to say publicly what they know in their heart. The public is ready for them and will welcome them with open arms.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)