The Realities of Legalizing It

Pot advocates are all lighting up to the idea that in today’s wintry economic climate and with this administration, they might dare Hope (Lobby) for a Change in marijuana policy, justified on the basis of new tax revenues and lower drug war expenses; what would a world with legal pot look like, and how unlikely is it, really?

The cost of freedom.

The cost of freedom.

The fact that California — the largest state economy in the US — has such dire budget problems but can’t tax its biggest cash crop has brought more visibility to this issue lately, and pot legalization was burning up Digg the other day.  Matt Yglesias reflects on the policy options and how they would change the pot-smoking and pot-growing industries.

As for how to make such a policy a political reality, it strikes me as one of those things that could only happen if Democrats increase their Congressional majorities in 2010 and/or Obama is re-elected in 2012 with a strong mandate.  At the same time, the idea here is that the argument for fiscal common sense trumps the culture/drug war argument because all the world’s money just disappeared. If the economy gets better, the rationale for legalization becomes less urgent and thus less likely. And if the economy gets worse, won’t the Democrats lose necessary elections?

No.  For the same reason that the GOP won the mid-terms in ’02 and Bush was re-elected in ’04, the economy could (and probably will) be further in the tank in 2010, even 2012, and it would still help the Democrats. The GOP was (was) the national security party, and under Bush everybody was terrified about national security. Even though 9/11 happened under a Republican president’s watch, his party was rewarded with power in ’02. Even though Bush was already an abject failure in ’04 to anyone paying enough attention, national security still trumped the economy, and for a lot of voters, major party categorizations such as this play a big role in their voting patterns. For the past four decades, Republicans : National Security :: Democrats : Domestic Policy. So the Dems could pick up seats in ’10 even if the stimulus doesn’t magically prevent the death of the modern economic system, and in ’12  Obama could win just for being less scary than Bobby Jindal or any of the creepy old white guys with the weird religions.  A recovering economy in 2012 is obviously Obama’s strongest possible hand, but his hole cards are really good, whatever comes down from the dealer.

So those are my reasons for being optimistic about elections going the right way. Getting back to weed,  if a lot of states are going to have serious budget problems during the New Depression, American federalism might work in legalization’s favor, if the states with big pot industries wind up lobbying or legislating towards this possible tax revenue.  This speaks to California particularly.

If the Dems win 2010, opinion polls show enough support, and Obama’s feeling bold, I even think pot reform could be a public policy stance to take during his re-election campaign (a rosy outlook), if it would play in the Southwest & Rocky Mountains where the Democratic party wants to secure a stronger base (Colorado and Nevada, I’m looking at you).  And obviously, no matter what, lots of pot activists would have to sustain a very not-stoner level of activism — a lot more active than my lazy ass writing blog posts, for example.

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