Legalize It

Which will be legal first in all 50 states: possession of small amounts of marijuana (say, under an ounce) or same-sex marriage?

That’s a quantitative, not qualitative question.  Your chance to predict, pure oddsmaking.  My prediction: pot.  Although same sex marriage has a 14 to two lead, I see pot crossing the 50-state line first.

In fact, if Barack Obama had a political wit about him, if he wanted to stop stumbling and light a fire under his second term, he’ll immediately propose national legalization of pot.  (Yeah.  What are the odds of that?)

Note that I wrote “immediately propose legalization,” not “propose immediate legalization.”  As former House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) once supposedly said of politics, “Sometimes you do something because it’s the right thing to do.”  (“Sometimes”?  Thanks, Sam)

This is not one of those times.  Legalizing pot may or may not be the right thing to do on an absolute scale.  Politically, it would be shrewd, an adjective lacking all over DC these days.

Here’s why.  In Colorado Tuesday, that usually-tax-shy state voted to impose a 25 percent tax on the sale of marijuana.  Take that, deficit hawks!  How does the Republican Party say no to taxing some thing half its base would just as soon not even see legal?

Again, note I said “half its base” (or somewhere thereabouts).  There’s a fair chance the other half of the GOP base will catch a buzz this weekend, or at least not get upset if someone else does.

A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found 22 percent of Americans identify as libertarian.  Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) followers are not going to be for legalization; Rand Paul’s (R-KY) will be.  Where do you think Ted Cruz (R-TX) will have to land on the issue to happify all those supporters he gained with his 21-hour anti-Obamacare tirade?

Consider this article I saw in High Times… um, wait, not High Times… Forbes.  Yes, Forbes, predicting that legalizing pot will be a boon to public health.  (Hey, healthcare again!)  Apparently, as people smoke more, they drink less, with fewer ill effects.  Written by Tommy Chong?  Um, no it’s Jacob Sullum, senior editor at the Libertarian magazine Reason.

(“Dude, if you can’t get your healthcare website to work, at least stop harshing our mellow!”  Or something like that.)

Wake up and smell the 21st century, Barry. You don’t have re-up with your high school “choom gang” to see states and municipalities across the country are either decriminalizing (Vermont this year), legalizing (Washington and Colorado) or dropping penalties for possession (Portland this week).  The point here is not to legalize pot as soon as possible.  (You and I both have teen daughters and reason to wonder is this if a good thing.)  In fact, you making an issue of this might actually slow the movement toward legalization or at least give you more control of how it rolls out.  The longer you drag out the debate, the more you scatter and confuse the Republicans, cleaving old cultural conservatives from young Ayn Rand devotees.

Mr. Obama has a political gold piece on the sidewalk in front of him.  Will he be smart enough to pick it up?  I’d make a prediction, but it’s too depressing.

© Mark Floegel, 2013

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