In between collecting campaign contributions from our oligarchical betters and cashing out their morals in exchange for more power, lawmakers also occasionally make laws.
Eventually, lawmakers may even make a law supported by almost two-thirds of their bosses—us—and pass a law that legalizes marijuana, rather than leaving the job up to voters. Which is what they’ve been content to do so far.
To date, every state that’s legalized marijuana has done so at the ballot box. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine—in each state where cannabis is legal for adults 21 and over, it’s legal because of a voter initiative, despite massive public support for cannabis legalization.
For some reason, our nation’s professional full-time lawmakers (if you want to call a job with multiple recesses a year “full-time”) are unable or unwilling to do the logical thing and make a law to please this majority. Measures to legalize and tax cannabis sales were introduced in the legislatures of 17 states earlier this year, as the Los Angeles Times noted.
Yet nearly all have met the fate of any similar measure introduced in Congress—limbo, death by neglect, the netherworld between introduction and the committee hearing that never comes.
In Rhode Island, lawmakers have decided they’ve had something better to do than consider marijuana legalization for three years running—and now you can make it four. Rather than even vote on Sen. Josh Miller’s plan to legalize and tax recreational marijuana sales, Miller’s colleagues instead created a 15-member “commission” to “study” the matter—a neat way of saying, “We’d rather not deal with this right now.”
Miller is obviously frustrated.
“This should and needs to happen,” he said, according to the Times.
In Connecticut, where lawmakers are well aware of their constituents’ plans to drive north to buy legal marijuana in Massachusetts as soon as they are able, a few Democrats tacked on a legalization measure into the state’s annual budget—which they’ll soon have to strip away since they can’t get fellow Democrats to support it.
In New Jersey, a state senator’s long-awaited plan to legalize marijuana is finally at least on public record, but will have to wait until after this fall’s governor’s race to start making its way through the “becoming law” process.
And in Vermont, a popular marijuana legalization measure did in fact pass through the legislature, after multiple tries in years prior—only to be vetoed by the state’s Republican governor. Not that Gov. Phil Scott is anti-weed. He’s just not for this legalization measure, he said in his veto message. It’s not you. It’s weed.
This should not be this way. Legalizing marijuana is neither unpopular, nor is it hard.
Last fall, polling from Gallup revealed 60 percent of Americans are in support of marijuana legalization. To say that 60 percent of voters would fall behind any and all marijuana legalization efforts is a stretch—support often hinges on how cannabis is legalized, and how tight restrictions are—but it’s no stretch to declare that many more Americans want marijuana legalized than want to keep the plant illegal.
And since most marijuana legalization plans follow either a plan cooked up by another state—like Colorado, Washington or Oregon—that’s similar in size and scope to how alcohol is handled, it’s not as if this is uncharted territory.
The easiest and most obvious explanation for this bizarrely consistent intransigence is fear.
Lawmakers are still convinced that support for legalizing marijuana can be converted into political attack ads. Legalization supporters have indeed been blasted as being soft on crime or interested in poisoning children—all complete nonsense, of course, but as this last election cycle demonstrated, you do not need to be logical, consistent or even cogent to go very far in American politics, particularly if you truck in scaring people. And scare tactics have been part of the prohibitionists’ scripts from the very beginning.
And lawmakers are rightly scared of losing campaign contributions.
Some of the bigger bankrollers of Arizona’s anti-marijuana legalization campaign included billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company. Anyone running afoul of forces such as these with a legalization measure could find themselves drowned in money during their next election campaign—money donated to their opponent.
Some of the more powerful special interests out there are public-safety employee unions—cops, prison guards, sheriff’s deputies. None of these folks are marijuana legalization fans. It’s not for nothing than even Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour Party, is calling for more cops on the streets.
But these aren’t good reasons. They’re excuses and cop-outs. Or, they’re demonstrations of for whom lawmakers really work for—and it’s not a majority of voters, who, every time they’re asked, have made their desires clear.