It is often said that legalizing marijuana is not politically possible. It is high time this orthodoxy be challenged.
Legalization is not supported by the public.
This is simply not true. The last 5 polls that I have seen on the subject show that a majority of Canada’s support legalization and by a fairly large margin. Moreover, it is something that is particularly popular with the Liberal base. According a 2007 poll, for which the complete breakdown is available, support is 55-41 nationally and is favoured by Liberal supporters 68-29 and by NDP supporters 71 -27.
Legalization would have no political payoff
Not only is legalization popular with the public, it is easy to see how it would indeed be a winner. Lining up behind the Liberals would be legions of academics, pundits, and celebrities. Canada would again be cool. Lining up behind Conservatives would be legions of social conservatives. Such a move would fracture the Conservative ranks like no other issue can. Red Tories and libertarians will balk at Charles McVety and James Dobson and the government so closely aligned.
Legalization is also one of those rare issues that the public likes to talk about and has the wherewithal to talk about. What is left of the reefer madness arguments will be quickly tore asunder. The process of debate will lead to an up surge in support while at the same time leaving the Conservatives badly mauled.
The Americans would Never Let it happen
If Canada were legalize marijuana the US would be engulfed in debate. Not only would Canadian boldness flame US domestic debate, most notably on the west coast, but should Canada have the guts to go through with such a move various European countries (e.g., Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands) Australia and most important of all Mexico would soon follow Canada's led. There is no question Mexico is seriously considering legalizing marijuana as it is. They have moved beyond outright denials to non denials coupled with comments about it being a "debate that needs to be taken seriously" Watch this interview with the Mexican Ambassador to the US. http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle_blog/2009/apr/14/ The international dominos would start falling one by one. This in turn would further embolden domestic proponents, especially those in California.
Politically, Obama's ability to push back would be limited. His hands are tied in ways another leader hands would not be. He freely admits to having marijuana in the past ("I inhaled frequently. That was the point") and his marijuana use is not a part of some redemption narrative, a la George Bush. It was a path he choice not to continue going down. Drug use was never presented as a demon he had to overcome yet alone one he still struggles with the way an alcoholic does with drink. This would leave him open to the charge of hypocrisy. Far more importantly though, the war and drugs, especially with regard to marijuana, has had a profound impact on the African American community in the States. If Obama was to toe the standard line in the face of Canada promising to end the war on drugs, he would be in a world of hurt politically. The African American community would not, of course, abandon him, but they would be unhappy and their unhappiness would have the potential to throw his whole presidency out of whack politically. His whole message of being the candidate of change would be called into question. Finally, the war on drugs is expensive and already there are plenty of calls in the US to end prohibition on the grounds of saving money. Take what is happening now with regard to the fiscal cost of the drug war and magnify that by a thousand.
Obama’s recent comments notwithstanding there are indications that Obama is sympathetic to the cause. Obama promised to stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries during the lead up to the election and he made good on it. This is big. In the month and bit since Obama took announcement 10 states are debating medical marijuana provisions. Once the number of States with medical marijuana provisions (currently there are 13) reaches a critical mass, marijuana will have to be reclassified. It is currently classified as a schedule one drug, i.e., an illegal drug with no medical benefit. A federal show down as to what place marijuana has in US society is, in other words, already in the works.
It is also big for another reason. Unlike in Canada, in California, for example, one does not have to be afflicted with a particular aliment to be eligible. A doctor can proscribe marijuana for whatever they see fit. Needless to say, the Bush administration was right to see California's medical marijuana program as a Trojan horse and that is why they cracked down so heavily. The system is ripe for abuse and with medical marijuana users and dispensaries no longer being targeted the medical marijuana industry in California will eventually grow so large as to leave no alternative but legalization.