It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re living in perhaps the most polarized political era in a century. Hard-earned rights and measures of equality are under attack and being rolled back by an emboldened class of ultra-conservative ideologues, while Democrats struggle to define themselves in a period where moderation has time and again shown itself to be an underwhelming and ineffective force in Washington. And so you’d think — you optimist you — that an issue with almost unheard of broad, multi-generational, bipartisan support, would be the sort of thing that politicians from basically all corners of the marketplace of ideas would be shouting about at the top of their lungs, while doing their absolute damndest to make sure capitalize on what seems to be an unambiguous political winner.
That’s right, I’m talking about weed. Specifically, I’m talking about a just-released poll showing an overwhelming majority of the country supports not only cannabis legalization, but other institutional adjustments to accommodate such legalization. Indeed, fully 60% of adult American citizens support legalizing weed, according to a YouGov poll conducted between April 1-5. And while that number alone is an impressive groundswell of support in this era of political rancor and divisiveness, consider that when broken down along various demographic lines, the data is even more compelling.
Among Democrats, more than 70% of poll respondents voiced approval for legal weed — a number that drops slightly to 60% among independents. But perhaps most interesting is the breakdown among Republicans, the law-and-order “just say no” party, where the line between supporting and opposing legalization is an even split, 46% to 46%. (Eight percent of GOP respondents claimed they were “not sure.”) Perhaps even more significantly, a majority of respondents also indicated support for not just legal weed, but also for expunging past, non-violent cannabis offenses from criminal records, and allowing banks to work in partnership with the marijuana industry — two issues that suggest not only a desire to smoke without legal ramification, but to fully shift how cannabis is treated in both the criminal justice and financial arenas as well.
So, here we have an issue with enormous support from Democrats, independents, and at least half of Republicans — the sort of political trifecta virtually unheard of these days. There’s even bipartisan legislation already passed in the House in case some enterprising president, whose party controls two of the three branches of government, wanted to take the opportunity for an effortless, wildly popular slam dunk.
Instead of getting out ahead of what should be a transparently easy win, the Biden administration seems content to let this particular lob sail past instead of even jumping toward the hoop.
“As the president said during the campaign, our current marijuana laws are not working,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said shortly after the House passed its legalization bill. “He agrees that we need to rethink our approach, including to address racial disparities and systemic inequities in our criminal justice system, broaden research on the effects of marijuana, and support the safe use of marijuana for medical purposes.”
And so, despite the seeming inevitability of nationwide legal cannabis at some point in the future, the Democrats who currently occupy a unique position of power in this country will simply wait for someone else to make it happen — and for someone else to get the credit.