According to Gallup, 64 percent of Americans do not want the federal government to enforce federal drug laws in the states that have recently legalized marijuana for recreational consumption.
Even if Gallup hasn’t corrected the deficiencies in its polling that led it to predict Mitt Romney would win the popular vote, this still suggests a large majority of Americans want to let Washington and Colorado allow legal pot use.
The idea of the feds staying out of the states is much more popular than actual marijuana legalization, which 48 percent support while 50 percent oppose.
“States’ rights” has historically been used as an argument to deny people rights (or health care). But with two states legalizing marijuana by popular vote for the first time in U.S. history, the federal government may now be in the position of moving into a state to limit rights residents have voted to give themselves.
The Obama administration’s policy has been to target large-scale marijuana traffickers and not users. But this has still resulted in more raids on medical marjuana dispensaries than liberals expected.
The New York Times reports that the administration is considering a variety of legal actions against Colorado and Washington, from going after users — prompting a case that would prove the drug is still illegal — to filing lawsuits against the states, to denying federal grants.
If the president were to act against legalization, this would present a unique opportunity to Republicans who have long made the “states’ rights” argument but long opposed drug legalization. Marijuana is extremely popular with young voters who have rejected Republicans en masse.
If the GOP stood up for the states, they could seize the middle ground without supporting federal legalization. But this would require an agility rarely seen from the right these days.
Pot advocates have long argued that this is a winning issue for Democrats to forge even closer alliances with younger voters. “If marijuana becomes another partisan social issue, like gay marriage or abortion, it will make it even more difficult for Republicans to appeal to millennial voters,” wrote The New Republic‘s Nate Cohn.
However, the best the left can likely hope for from this administration is inaction. Why? Vice President Joe Biden is the man who coined the term “drug czar,” the post that was created to begin the so-called “War on Drugs.”
“The vice president has a special interest in this issue,” Kevin Sabet, who served the White House as a top adviser on marijuana policy, told Rolling Stone. “As long as he is vice president, we’re very far off from legalization being a reality.”
Yet the nascent politics of the 2016 presidential election could end up reshaping some perspectives on this issue, given the popularity state marijuana legalization seems to have with voters and with several states facing legalization votes in the near future.
Biden has suggested that he is considering a 2016 bid.
Meanwhile, former president Bill Clinton, husband of potential 2016 candidate and current secretary of state Hillary Clinton, made major news over the weekend speaking about military efforts in Colombia to eliminate serious drug use in America.
He said simply, “…it hasn’t worked.”
Whether these experiments in Washington and Colorado could lead to a broader rethinking of the drug war remains to be seen.
Photo credit: Hupu2 via Flickr.com
Copyright 2012 The National Memo