Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Friday, January 24, 2014

More politicians backing marijuana reform

This morning I appeared on Nevada public radio to talk about recent developments on medical marijuana in the state.  One of the other guests was Joe Brezny, a former Nevada state director for Mitt Romney and current head of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association.  

Brezny had an interesting take about recent statements from President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about marijuana.  He said he thought Obama and Reid (in part) may have been trying to bait Republican politicians into coming out strongly on the other side.  Although Republican voters are much more prohibitionist than Democratic voters overall, a good chunk of the party's base favors legalization and--perhaps more importantly--a much larger percentage is skeptical of federal interference with state laws.  

I don't know if Brezny's theory is true.  But if it is, Republicans didn't take the bait this week.  In fact, the past few days have seen a number of prominent Republican politicians express support for easing marijuana laws.  Like Obama and Reid's statements, the comments have been tepid.  But it is a very interesting dynamic nonetheless.  

Indeed, this reaction might tell us more about the political state of marijuana policy than what Obama and Reid said themselves.  There was a time when any statement in support of marijuana law reform, however mild, would have generated a swift and certain backlash from political opponents (especially if the support was coming from a Democratic politician.)

But this week, instead of a backlash, we saw this:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Thursday that he's open to marijuana decriminalization in the Lone Star state.

“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization," Perry said at a World Economic Forum panel on drug legalization in Davos, Switzerland, according to the San Antonio Express-News. He was referring to "drug courts" in the state that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses.

A Perry spokeswoman confirmed to the Express-News that while Perry is opposed to legalization of the drug because of medical issues, the governor supports policies that lower punishments for marijuana use in order to keep smokers out of jail.

And this:

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday (Jan. 22) he would be open to the idea of medical marijuana use becoming legal in Louisiana, as long as patients were under the close supervision of a doctor and the drug's distribution was tightly controlled.

And this:

Governor Chris Christie today took the oath of office for a second term and delivered his inaugural address at the War Memorial in Trenton.  During his inaugural address he called for an end to the drug war and compassion for those suffering from drug addiction.

“We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse. We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands this simple truth:  every life has value and no life is disposable,” Christie said during his inaugural speech this morning.

By my count, that's three Republicans rumored to be considering 2016 presidential bids expressing support for easing drug laws.  Thinking about the politics of these issues 10, 5 or even 1 or 2 years ago, this trend is something to behold.    

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2014/01/more-politicians-backing-marijuana-reform.html

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