One of the most deeply imbedded ideas in our political culture is the notion that the public supports harsh drug laws and will punish politicians who deviate from the tough-on-drugs script. Unfortunately, that's precisely why a lot of good ideas never make it out of the conference room. It goes something like this:
INDIANAPOLIS -- When state Sen. Karen Tallian first floated the idea of introducing a bill to look at legalizing marijuana, her Statehouse colleagues warned the Portage Democrat that it could kill her chances for re-election. [Herald Bulletin]
One could hardly begin to imagine how many times this exact exchange has taken place in political circles, but what makes this story unique is that Sen. Tallian understood something her colleagues did not:
But the 60-year-old mother of three thought there might be some public support for taking the crime out of pot, so she sent out an informal survey, via email, to constituents in her northwest Indiana district. Within 72 hours of sending the email, she received more than 2,000 responses. Almost all of them were supportive, and most of the supportive ones said the state should treat marijuana like alcohol: Control its sale and tax it as a revenue enhancer.
"I was floored by the response," Tallian said. Emboldened by the support, Tallian filed a bill last January to begin a serious conversation...
In so many ways, all it takes to move this issue forward is a willingness to ignore the people who don't know how to have a serious conversation about marijuana. They will tell you that it's not important, even though it obviously is. They will tell you that no one cares, even though almost everyone does. And they will tell you that you'll make thousands of enemies, when new allies and friends are waiting around every corner to pledge their support and stand alongside any political leader wise enough to know that the time for change is at hand.
If there exists a political price to be paid in the marijuana debate, it will not befall those who've leant their voices to the movement for reform. Rather, it is those who've ignored the polls, ignored the headlines, and ignored the message sent by voters on one ballot measure after another who will one day find themselves struggling to adapt to the new politics of marijuana in America.
This fight is far from over, to be sure, but the idea that we must arrest millions of our friends and neighbors for their use of marijuana is one which will never again enjoy the popular support of the American people. That much is clear, and the future holds promising political opportunities for leaders who are willing to do something -- anything -- other than defend the unfathomable and escalating disaster our drug war has become.