The American marijuana legalization movement is really screwing with politicians. Public opinion on weed used to be so cut and dry: conservatives and old people hated it, and liberals and young people loved it until they became old and conservative. Then everything changed. In just the last two years, public opinion has swung toward legalization.
Now, most discerning adults support it, and that confuses the hell out of the officials whose jobs rely on perceived agreement with the public. They must be asking themselves, Is this a fad? Is this one of those things that could ruin my career? Is this some weird Truman Show scenario where, as soon as I say I support legalization, the curtain will drop and everyone will laugh at me and I won’t be able to run for president?
We should relish this moment in history not only because it’s a time of great change for cannabis, but also because we get to see aspiring presidential candidates vying for the right side of history, tiptoeing around the issue, and occasionally poking it with a stick. Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who some say is eyeing the democratic nomination for president in 2016, took a half-measure by reviving a forgotten 1980 law that allows for extremely restricted medical marijuana.
The plan is bullshit: It relies on hospitals to dispense weed, which they won’t do because it’s against federal law, and it says that the supply will come from police seizures, meaning there’s no quality control for a medicine. However, it does have one benefit. It allows Cuomo to keep one foot on each side of the issue. If anyone accuses him of being regressive on pot policy, he can say, “Hey, I sort of legalized it,” and to anyone who says he’s legalizing a dangerous drug he can say, “Hey, I only sort of legalized it.”
Meanwhile, his state has an increasing majority of adults that believe it should be legal, and the issue is becoming a lot larger than he anticipated. There are both a medical and a recreational bill making headway, and even some republican lawmakers are in support. When the medical bill inevitably ends up on his desk, will Cuomo sign it? It all depends on how he predicts that decision to be perceived two years from now.
Another presidential hopeful is a bit surer where he wants to stand on the issue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie remains firmly opposed to any form of legalization, which he expresses by pocket vetoing any progressive marijuana legislation. He did make an extremely limited allowance for kids with severe epilepsy to get medical cannabis, probably so he wouldn’t look like a complete monster, but in a recent town hall discussion, his true colors showed nonetheless.
A woman who had lost her 15-month-old daughter to epilepsy complained that dispensaries in New Jersey were still not carrying the extracts needed to treat epilepsy, and that the state should force them to do so. After callously casting aside her heartfelt request and throwing a few bureaucratic phrases at her as she cried, he told her that the dispensaries simply did not make enough of a profit from cannabis. He said nothing of the unnecessarily stringent registration rules for both doctors and patients, which his administration implemented, that are directly decreasing the number of registered patients in New Jersey and thereby the overall demand in the state.
While Cuomo seems to be hedging his bets on weed, Christie is betting against it outright, and he’s doing whatever he can to see to it that it fails in his state. It’s hard to believe that either of these career politicians, serving their own interests over the wellbeing of their constituents, is even being considered as presidential candidates. A recent Huffington Post article points out that exactly zero US governors and senators have come out in support of full legalization, and even the governors of Colorado and Washington implemented it begrudgingly and remain vocal about their opposition.
All those politicians might not be running for president, but they all want to have long, upward careers, and none of them know how this whole legalization thing is going to go. If it’s public support they’re after, the numbers are right in front of them and they’re headed in a very clear direction, but apparently the feelings of their constituents aren’t enough to sway them. Here’s looking ahead to the 2016 primary debates, when both these knuckleheads will have to answer for their ineptitude.