Representatives Ron Paul and Barney Frank couldn’t be more disparate in their political views. One is fervently libertarian and conspiratorial at times, while the other is unabashedly progressive and blustery. The two have, however, dovetailed when it comes to the matter of marijuana reform. Both candidates believe that it is high time (I couldn’t resist the urge) to legalize marijuana. Paul believes it’s a matter of simple libertarian principle (the government has no right), whereas Frank—whose partner was caught smoking dope—thinks prohibition is wasteful government spending and just bad policy.
The two introduced the House bill HR 2306, Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, which would have legalized marijuana and empowered the states to regulate it just as they do alcohol and cigarettes. That is, tax sales and set an age for legal purchase.
Now with the two legislators retiring, the pro-marijuana ranks have thinned a bit, but the movement is hardly without its supporters. A few of the most visibile and powerful HR 2306 co-sponsors include Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Charles Rangel (D-NY), John Conyers (D-MI), Pete Stark (D-CA) and Michael Capuano (D-MA). Check out the full list of co-sponsors over at OpenCongress.org.
But who among these co-sponsors has it in him to lead the charge and bring it all home? Pete Stark, at 80 years old, is a gaffe machine and might be unseated by his opinion. Rangel, while still influential in the halls of Congress, probably isn’t that interested in taking the lead on the issue. Apart from Conyers, none of the other legislators really have the visibility of Paul and Frank.
“Given the support Jared Polis and Dana Rohrabacher have shown for marijuana reform legislation in Congress, the introduction of the Truth in Trials Act by Sam Farr, and the rigorous testimony and questioning in committees by Steve Cohen, it seems likely that they will be some of the more ardent supporters of sane marijuana policies going forward,” says Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Only they can say how much they will be involved in the future, however, since all four have a wide variety of policy interests about which they care deeply. It is very likely that more supporters will emerge as politicians realize that they are far behind public opinion on this issue. ”
Obama, who has been on an anti-marijuana crusade in 2012, recently stated, “Legalization is not the answer. The capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain countries, if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint, could be just as corrupting, if not more corrupting, than the status quo.” Obama’s response came at a Latin American summit on alternatives to the drug war.
While Obama, for some reason, doesn’t believe marijuana legalization will stop the South American drug cartels, Gary Johnson thinks quite the opposite.
“What is it going to take to convince the federal government that current drug policies are not working?” wrote Johnson in a HuffPo op-ed two years ago. “The fact is that the current drug laws are contributing to an all-out war on our southern border — all in the name of a modern-day prohibition that is no more logical or realistic than the one we abandoned 75 years ago.”
Mere perception, you say? Johnson cites some interesting statistics.
“Mexican drug cartels make at least 60 percent of their revenue from selling marijuana in the United States, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy,” writes Johnson. “The FBI estimates that the cartels now control distribution in more than 230 American cities, from the Southwest to New England.”
That would be the same White House Office of National Drug Control Policy that reports to President Obama. So why the disconnect? Tackling the issue of marijuana prohibition head-on is an electoral liability, so it was no surprise that Obama launched his medical marijuana crusade in an election year. Pragmatically speaking, Obama couldn’t afford to lose any potential swing voters by talking drugs—you know, since they are the scourge of mankind and not war or religion.
It seems that unless Obama gets re-elected and does an about-face on marijuana prohibition, the pro-marijuana legalization effort will essentially be a House of Representatives effort. It’s up to them.
Another politician to watch is Beto O’Rourke, who is currently running for Texas’s 16th congressional district. “If Beto O’Rourke wins the El Paso district, he will also be one to keep an eye on,” observes Fox. “He wrote Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico,” a book which makes a strong case for legalized marijuana, amongst other things.
Perhaps he could be the leader on the issue after Paul and Frank leave office.