By Scott Morgan
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shows how you can please almost every political constituency by not arresting people for marijuana possession.
In giving his blessing to the ticketing proposal, the mayor availed himself of one response to Chicago’s rising crime rate and a police force that has shrunk due to budget cuts – even if it falls far short of providing a far-reaching solution.
Emanuel also no doubt acted knowing there was little political downside to the move. It appeared to appeal immediately to a broad range of people, which certainly factored into the decision of a politician who pays close attention to polling data. [Chicago Sun-Times]
…those who welcomed the mayor’s announcement as a common-sense approach included blacks and Latinos concerned that pot arrests involve them disproportionately; white liberals who long have disdained the “war on drugs” approach; and fiscal conservatives looking at the costs of processing pot cases that usually end up being dismissed anyway.
The idea of arresting people for pot is unpopular with almost everybody these days, and we're starting to see prominent politicians piling on as well, from Rahm Emanuel to the Rhode Island legislature to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
And so we've happened once again upon an excellent opportunity to test the conventional wisdom that fixing marijuana laws will invite a brutal backlash from opportunistic political opponents. As Paul Waldman puts it:
At the moment, there remains a strong incentive to support the status quo, lest you be targeted in your next race as some kind of hippie-lover.
If this is true, then we've got two state governors, a billionaire mayor and an entire state legislature at risk of being stigmatized viciously for their hippie sympathies. But I can't hear anything over the uproarious applause.
Really, when it comes to navigating the politics of marijuana reform, the trick is just to do it. Ignore the people who say it will hurt you politically because it won't at all. Ignore the people who say it sends the wrong message to children because children don't even know what decriminalization means. Ignore any and every stupid thing anybody says in defense of the infinitely idiotic idea that we should be forcibly ripping pot out of people's pockets as a matter of public policy.
The first thing that will happen after you endorse marijuana reform is that you'll get positive press coverage and supportive feedback from constituents. The second thing that will happen is you'll save money and resources while reducing racist drug war harassment and other random injustices. And finally, after all that, when you run for re-election, the whole issue will never even come up. Your opponent will never say you love hippies or call you a pothead or offer you Doritos during a debate. Why? Because pointing out that you advocated marijuana reform would make voters more likely to support you, not less.