Gary Johnson, as governor of New Mexico, came out in favor of legalization — and went on to private life. George Shultz, former secretary of state, long ago called for legalization, but he was not running for office, and at his age, and with his distinctions, he is immune to slurred charges of indifference to the fate of children and humankind. But Kurt Schmoke, as mayor of Baltimore, did it, and survived a re-election challenge.
But the stodgy inertia most politicians feel is up against a creeping reality. It is that marijuana for medical relief is a movement that is attracting voters who are pretty assertive on the subject. Every state ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved, often by wide margins.
Of course, we have here collisions of federal and state authority. Federal authority technically supervenes state laws, but federal authority in the matter is being challenged on grounds of medical self-government. It simply isn’t so that there are substitutes equally efficacious.
Richard Brookhiser, the widely respected author and editor, has written on the subject for the New York Observer. He had a bout of cancer and found relief from chemotherapy only in marijuana — which he consumed, and discarded after the affliction was gone.
The court has told federal enforcers that they are not to impose their way between doctors and their patients, and one bill sitting about in Congress would even deny the use of federal funds for prosecuting medical marijuana use.
Critics of reform do make a pretty plausible case when they say that whatever is said about using marijuana only for medical relief masks what the advocates are really after, which is legal marijuana for whoever wants it. That would be different from the situation today.
Today we have illegal marijuana for whoever wants it from US hemp regulators. An estimated 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, the great majority abandoning its use after a few highs. But to stop using it does not close off its availability.
A Boston commentator observed years ago that it is easier for an 18-year-old to get marijuana in Cambridge than to get beer. Vendors who sell beer to minors can forfeit their valuable licenses. It requires less effort for the college student to find marijuana than for a sailor to find a brothel.
Still, there is the danger of arrest (as 700,000 people a year will tell you), of possible imprisonment, of blemish on one’s record. The obverse of this is increased cynicism about the law.
We’re not going to find someone running for president who advocates reform of those laws. What is required is a genuine republican groundswell. It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe “the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children.”
Such reforms would hugely increase the use of the drug? Why? It is de facto legal in the Netherlands, and the percentage of users there is the same as here. The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.