For decades, politicians tried to outdo one another when it came to being "tough" on drugs. Scared of attack ads about being "soft on crime," elected officials would elbow each other out of the way to be seen as the toughest drug warrior in the room, and would run far, far away from efforts to reform laws that penalize the possession and sales of marijuana and other substances.
But because voter attitudes, as demonstrated in several recent major polls, have so rapidly and markedly shifted in the pro-reform direction in recent years, many savvy elected officials are now trying to out-legalize one another. It's a new and refreshing position for drug policy reformers to find ourselves in.
Take the intense race for New York City mayor that is now underway, for example.
This week we saw current NYC comptroller and Democratic candidate John C. Liu issue a report endorsing the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana sales.
"New York City's misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities... Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren't enough, it would also boost our bottom line."
And Liu isn't the only candidate in the race endorsing marijuana reform. Other Democrats like NYC Public Advocate Bill De Blasio and NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to close the so-called "public view loophole" that allows police officers to arrest people for having marijuana in public even though possession is technically decriminalized in New York State. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner is also getting in on the no-arrests-for-marijuana action, detailing his position in a new campaign brochure:
"End Arrests for Small Amounts of Marijuana. These arrests serve no purpose; they worsen NYPD/community relations, create criminal records that ruin lives, and waste the time and energy of officers who should be fighting serious crime."
While current Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn't exactly been a friend to marijuana reform over the years (he recently, for example, made fun of the notion that marijuana has medical benefits), he has backed Gov. Cuomo's proposal on ending arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana in public, the same position many of the Democratic candidates have.
Like Liu, former NYC City Councilman Sal Albanese also supports legalization. On the Republican side of the race, NORML reports that only former NYC Deputy Mayor John Lhota has taken a formal position on marijuana issues, which is to support legalization.
Hopefully the massive amount of press and positive attention that Liu's newly announced pro-legalization position is generating this week will induce more of the candidates to take note that the political winds on this issue have shifted and will embolden them to get on board with endorsing the complete end of marijuana prohibition.
As a nonprofit public education organization, Marijuana Majority does not and cannot endorse or oppose candidates for elected office. The above post represents news analysis about the changing political and social dynamics surrounding marijuana reform issues, and should not be construed as an endorsement of any candidate.