Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Yesterday, the National Journal published an article asking how Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's marijuana prohibitionist outlook might impact his possible 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The piece ran with this subheadling: "Would Democrats support an antimarijuana candidate for president? O'Malley may be about to find out."
The story is another sign of how quickly the conventional political wisdom is changing when it comes to marijuana. And it raises an interesting question. Is it possible that marijuana reform could become a litmus test for Democratic candidates in the coming years?
Though marijuana reform and marriage equality are often compared (perhaps too often), I can't help but think back to the reaction when Gavin Newsom began marrying same sex couples. I think a lot of people have forgotten that, at the time, Democrats couldn't run away from him fast enough. Even more striking: just a year earlier, in the 2004 Presidential race, many people argued Howard Dean was unelectable because he had signed a civil union bill in Vermont (as it turned out, yelling into a bad sound system is what made him unelectable).
Fast forward ten years. Today, opposition to marriage equality would be a deal breaker in a statewide Democratic primary in many (perhaps most) parts of the country. Some might remember a period of media focus last year on the Democratic Senators who still opposed same sex marriage to the point where it became sort of a count down.
I'm not sure we can say whether marijuana will ever reach that same tipping point. There are reasons to think it may not. Unlike same sex marriage, which directly relates to equality under the law (a core Democratic value), marijuana reform's relationship to civil rights principles is arguably much less direct.
Either way, the prospect of marijuana as a Democratic litmus test is certainly interesting to consider. The National Journal article notes, for example, that O'Malley will soon have to take action on a marijuana decriminalization bill and asks: "Can O'Malley possibly veto this sort of bill and go on to be taken seriously as a national Democratic contender for president?"
This will be something to watch very closely in 2016. If the Democratic presidential candidates (assuming there is more than one) feel the need to voice support for marijuana reform (even limited support like for decriminalization), it could have a huge ripple effect.
(Hat tip to Eric Sterling for sending the article my way.)