The Marijuana Vote

[ Posted Monday, April 30th, 2012 – 16:22 UTC ]

Jimmy Kimmel is right... sort of. In this past weekend's schmooze-fest between media organizations and the president (and, for some inexplicable reason, Hollywood), Kimmel performed a comedy routine for the president and the assembled crowd. Towards the end (around 19:40 on the video), Kimmel made a few marijuana jokes. He started by directly asking the president "What is with the marijuana crackdown?" Of course, being a comedian, a few punchlines followed. But the most notable one -- like all good comedic roasting -- had a kernel of truth in it: "You know, pot smokers vote too. Sometimes a week after the election, but they vote."

President Obama's election in 2008 was notable for the high turnout of a few demographic groups which normally don't vote in large numbers (most notably, young people). The 2012 election, by comparison, sees both political parties fighting their own separate waves of profound unenthusiasm. Republicans are quite enthusiastic about defeating Obama, but if there are people actively enthusiastic about Mitt Romney, I certainly haven't noticed them yet. On the Democratic side, there is indeed enthusiasm for holding onto the White House for four more years, but Barack Obama has disillusioned many previously-enthusiastic voters -- who may drag themselves to the polls and vote for him, but will not be fervently volunteering in his re-election campaign (as they did four years ago).

With this political atmosphere, it is a complete mystery why President Obama and his Justice Department chose -- roughly halfway through his first term -- to launch a crackdown on marijuana which goes further even than his Republican predecessor.

Parts of this crackdown can only be properly called "Draconian." A state, for example, passes a medical marijuana law and the state's top legal officer then attempts to create some common-sense rules and regulations to implement the new law -- which was passed by a direct vote of the state's citizens. The Obama Justice Department reacts by threatening to prosecute the top state attorney as a major drug trafficker, using laws passed at the height of the Drug War hysteria (the "Nancy Reagan years"). Got that? The voters pass a law, the top state attorney tries to implement the law, and the U.S. Justice Department threatens him with 20 years or more in federal prison if he does so. In another state where medical marijuana is legal, the Justice Department threatens weekly free newspapers with prosecution for running ads for medical marijuana services. So much for freedom of speech and the press, eh?

These are just the most disgusting and disgraceful examples of the marijuana crackdown which has been ramping up in the past few years. But one has to wonder -- why is Barack Obama doing this? As Barney Frank pointed out in a recent interview on the subject: "I think it's bad politics and bad policy." Usually, when presidents put on their Drug Warrior hat, they are pandering to what used to be called the "law and order" demographic of the American electorate. Obama, strangely enough, does not even seem to be doing this. He has not made an issue of the raids, and has not even attempted to score any political points with his actions. He virtually never mentions the frequent raids, and only reluctantly answers questions about them.

He attempted to do so in a recent Rolling Stone interview, and gave an answer that is patently ludicrous:

I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, "Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books." What I can say is, "Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage." As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

Oh really, Mister President? Then please explain what you are currently doing on the Defense Of Marriage Act, which you have instructed your Justice Department to ignore. Please explain why you chose not to prosecute any federal employee who might possibly have broken U.S. and international laws on torture. You do indeed have such discretion, and you are quite simply intensifying the war on medical marijuana for some reason or another, which you refuse to share with the American people.

I saw a show by another comedian awhile back (Bill Maher), who summed up the legalities surrounding medical marijuana thusly (quoting from memory): "You can't grow it, you can't buy it, you can't even get it for free, but if a joint should suddenly drop from the sky into your lips, then you are allowed to smoke it." That seems to be the goal Obama's Justice Department is striving to achieve.

The truly sad part is that it does not have to be like this. Attorney General Eric Holder -- singlehandedly -- could change the law. It wouldn't have to go through Congress, it wouldn't have to be signed by the president, Holder himself could make one regulation change and move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the list of dangerous controlled substances. Schedule II drugs may be prescribed and used legally. Schedule I drugs may not. He even admitted this to the Huffington Post at the dinner at which Kimmel performed. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia -- one-third of the 51 state-level governments in this country -- have passed medical marijuana laws. The federal government refuses to recognize this reality, but it doesn't make it any less real.

Kimmel, setting up another punchline, had another wise thing to say: "Marijuana is something that real people care about." I can vouch for this. I have friends with serious illnesses (Parkinson's, for example) who are medical marijuana patients. Most of these folks are about as far left as you can get, politically. They would have been overjoyed at a President Kucinich or a President Dean, to put it another way. They were, for the most part, fairly enthusiastic about voting for Barack Obama. They are not, anymore. As one put it, "President Obama has been worse than President Bush, on the issue of my health and my medicine -- why would I vote for him again?"

The "marijuana vote" is something that is virtually impossible to demographically study. It cuts across all the standard groupings of age, sex, occupation, living situation, ethnicity, race, religion, and economic status. It can't be studied because its members are perpetually underground -- what they do is illegal, after all, and who is going to admit to a random pollster on the telephone: "Sure, I smoke pot -- I smoke a bunch of pot!" The marijuana vote does not advertise itself on bumperstickers ("I smoke pot, and I VOTE!") or with any organized political movement. When people can lose their jobs (or worse) by admitting they're part of a demographic, then compiling stats on the group becomes impossible. They are invisible, and their aim (under our current laws) is to stay that way.

In public life, admitting to smoking marijuana used to be an automatic disqualification for a candidate for just about any office. Now, it is not. Politicians are given a free pass on the issue -- "When I was young and irresponsible... in college... I smoked some pot" does not disqualify anyone anymore from any office. What I keep waiting for some intrepid reporter to ask one of these public figures is: "Do you think you would be where you are today if you had gotten busted for your marijuana use back then?" It's all about not getting caught, in other words. If you smoked pot in a frat house and never got busted, that is one thing. If you did get nabbed, well, sorry, but nobody's going to vote for you. How twisted is the logic behind that? Politicians who skated by when they were young now approve a crackdown on the very same things they used to do (but escaped punishment for). The stench of hypocrisy is impossible to avoid.

Kimmel is right about one thing. Pot smokers vote. He's also right that, sometimes, they just stay home and don't bother -- but it's not because they're too stoned to remember what day it is. President Obama needs to realize this.

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “The Marijuana Vote”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    this has nothing to do with the drug itself and everything to do with preserving the pharmaceutical monopoly on THC-based drugs. the obama administration wouldn't piss off pharma that much in an election year, if ever. if he did, they'd withdraw their funding from his campaign and their superpacs would throw the kitchen sink at him.

  2. [2] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    I have to say that "cannabis culture" is in fact a culture. Put any culture under pressure and it will react negatively.

  3. [3] 
    dsws wrote:

    It's all about not getting caught, in other words.

    Sort of. It's all about not being identified as one of the bad guys.

    Sad to say, most people believe in arbitrary authority, not rule of law. The authorities catch the bad guys, by definition, and they need to have the tools to put them away. In other words, if you get busted for pot instead of getting off with a warning or getting ignored completely or having it handled by your school authorities without getting law enforcement involved, then you must have been one of the bad guys.

  4. [4] 
    tinsldr2 wrote:


    While he can change from Schedule I to a Schedule II so medical use is ok the President can not and should not ignore the law. It is just to much of a slippery slope.

    While you may or may not trust Obama to ignore laws he does not like what about future Presidents? Where does it lead even though the road be paved with good intentions?

    You wrote: "Then please explain what you are currently doing on the Defense of Marriage Act, which you have instructed your Justice Department to ignore."

    But the justice department is not ignoring DOMA. Legally married couples can not file their taxes 'Married filling Jointly' for instance if the couple is the same sex, and Military members that are legally married do not get benefits if their spouse is the same sex to include healthcare for the spouse.

    What he instructed the justice depart to do, is to not defend DOMA on court challenges to it's constitutionality. Until the court decides it is constitutional it will and must be enforced.

    Now I think DOMA is unconstitutional and terrible, and even if the President thinks it is unconstitutional, it was signed into law by Clinton and it is a court decision not Obama's that is needed for the law to be overturned.

    Obama can not just ignore the law and grant federal recognition to same sex couples that are married. As much as I think it would be the right thing to grant them that legal recognition, the precedent of ignoring laws we dont like is a dangerous one.

    Crossposted from huffpo since they moderated my earlier post out....

    PS, happy May Day ...

  5. [5] 
    tinsldr2 wrote:

    Ok in my above post I wrote :

    Until the court decides it is constitutional it will and must be enforced.

    But that should say "Until the court decides it is Unconstitutional it will and must be enforced."

    The courts will definitely decide DOMA is UNconstitutional

  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    tinsldr2 -

    And a happy International Workers' Day to you too! Heh.

    [I would call that "throwing a Haymaker"... but you'd have to look it up to see why... heh.]

    I responded to your posts over at HuffPost. I'll try and copy and paste the responses in here later (HP is up to around 250 comments, so it's been exhausting this morning...).

    I was glad to see how eye-to-eye we see on DOMA's unconstitutionality, though. Just like Loving v. Virginia, this law will not stand review.



  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    All I can say is that I am really REALLY glad that Obama has no desire to "spike the football" with regards to his minor role in taking down Bin Laden..


    Let's face it, when you have active duty and retired Navy SEALS telling the President to shut the frak up, you KNOW you've stepped into the kaa kaa :D

    But, CW.. I have to give you kudos.. You took Obama to task over actions that have absolutely NOTHING to do with his behavior towards Republicans. Good job!! :D

    If only everyone else here had a modicum of the integrity you displayed with this...


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