Six-term U.S. Senator and 2008 GOP Presidential Nominee John McCain stunned the nation earlier in the week during a town hall meeting in Arizona devoted to discussion of possible war with Syria, but not with his comments about that topic.  When asked about marijuana, McCain reportedly said, “Maybe we should legalize. We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people.”

McCain’s statement represents a huge change in his view on marijuana from his failed run for president just five years ago. In a campaign-stop video recorded by Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana on September 30, 2007, McCain is confronted by a woman who uses medical cannabis and asked what he would do about the issue as president.

Initially, McCain refutes the idea that patients are being arrested, saying, “First you’ll have to show me a case where people are going in and arresting people who are dead and dying… I haven’t heard of such a case… we don’t arrest people who are dead and dying.” He then dismissed the woman’s experience, claiming she may be, “One of the unique cases in America” where only medical marijuana will help. “I still would not support medical marijuana because I do not think that the preponderance of medical opinion in America agrees with your assertion that it’s the most effective way of treating pain.” (Nevermind your own personal experience successfully treating your pain with cannabis, lady, because the American Medical Association says it ain’t so -- Ed.)

During his senate career, where he has served since 1987, McCain distinguished himself as the most hawkish advocate of more punitive drug policy. In 2000, he told the Boston Globe he wanted to increase penalties for drugs, including support for a death penalty for “drug kingpins”.  In a 1999 debate at Dartmouth, McCain said, “I can’t support the legalization of marijuana. Scientific evidence indicates that… it is a gateway drug.”  McCain even claimed we were winning the War on Drugs during Nancy Reagan's “Just Say No” program.

It looks like it only took 20 medical marijuana states, two marijuana legalization states, a dozen or so polls indicating majority support for legalization, and his daughter’s support for legalization and admission of her own pot smoking to finally get a sitting U.S. senator to change his mind and consider legalization of marijuana. One down, 59 to go.