POLITICS
02/20/2014 12:02 pm ET | Updated Feb 20, 2014

Maryland Governor Hopeful Compares Marijuana Legalization To Marriage Equality Fight

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running in the Democratic primary to succeed Martin O'Malley as the state's governor, compared efforts to legalize marijuana to the fight for marriage equality, saying he believes change will come incrementally.

Speaking Wednesday during The Baltimore Sun's Newsmaker Forum, Gansler spoke about how the tide has turned on gay marriage, with 17 states plus the District of Columbia now legalizing same-sex marriage. Maryland, where Gansler has served as attorney general since 2007, legalized gay marriage in 2012.

Gansler noted that while "ten or fifteen years ago" gay marriage was relatively unheard of, "ten years from now every state will have it."

"It happened because there was sort of a national movement toward it and the collective body of intelligence was, 'This is wrong. We're not doing this right. Let's not deprive people of their rights.'"

Gansler continued, "I think a similar kind of trend is happening with marijuana now across the country. Will we end up getting to legalization? I think we will. My view is, though, it ought to be done very incrementally and in lock step and make sure we do it the right way. Because once you go too far you can't go back."

Gansler stated his support for "full" medical marijuana legalization, and said he also believes the state should decriminalize small amounts of recreational marijuana, noting how drug laws are disproportionally enforced in minority communities.

"Full legalization, I think we're not ready for that," he said.

Tom Angell, chairman of the pot policy group Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post that Gansler's remarks indicate how much the conversation on pot has changed in recent years.

"It's pretty remarkable for the top law enforcement official in the state of Maryland to imply that marijuana legalization is inevitable," Angell said. "This, combined with the fact that Gansler's remarks come in the midst of a fierce primary campaign where each candidate seems to have realized that supporting marijuana reform is a political benefit and not a danger, signals just how far this debate has shifted in recent years. More and more politicians are coming to terms with the fact that marijuana legalization is a mainstream position supported by the majority of voters, just as has happened with marriage equality."

Gansler has several opponents in the Democratic primary, including Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and State Delegate Heather Mizeur. Mizeur supports legalizing and taxing marijuana in the state, and has picked up the endorsement of NORML, an influential marijuana reform group.

Earlier this month, Mizeur invited her Democratic opponents to testify on behalf of a bill decriminalizing marijuana. According to the Washington Post, neither candidate responded to the request.

Watch the full interview with Gansler below:

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