This week, both of the progressive marijuana bills introduced in the State House this session were voted down by the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. This wasn’t a terribly surprising outcome, as the Committee continues to be led by former police officer Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), who killed the decriminalization bill last year as well. Despite the outcome, having an actual legalization bill introduced was another big step forward towards ending the disastrous prohibition of marijuana.
Making that even more clear are the results of a SurveyUSA poll, which finds that 56% of Washington adults think that legalizing marijuana is a good idea (vs. only 36% who think it’s a bad idea). On top of that, the only demographic that remains strongly opposed is the 65 and over crowd. Even among those aged 50-64, SurveyUSA found that 63% think legalizing marijuana is a good idea. And even in Eastern Washington, they found that 52% think it’s a good idea.
Those numbers alone won’t make the laws change though. It still requires either the legislature and the Governor to care about overwhelming public support for reforming the laws (not going to happen any time soon), or it will take a voter initiative. On the latter front, Sensible Washington is gearing up for the 2010 ballot with an initiative to remove the criminal penalties for marijuana. According to Sensible Washington, they aim to have the initiative language hammered out by March 1, and will be collecting signatures through July. They need over 240,000 to qualify for the November ballot.
What ends up being the most frustrating aspect of this effort, though, is that there simply isn’t a sensible reason for Democrats in this state (or in other more progressive states) to get on board. In fact, Ben Morris makes this connection with respect to the defeat of Martha Coakley in Massachusetts. Coakley was a vocal opponent of the decriminalization initiative that Massachusetts voters approved by almost a 2 to 1 margin. Yet everyone was scratching their head as to why progressives and young voters didn’t show up to vote for her.
Whether Democrats like it or not, drug law reform is part of the “change” that people want right now. And while drug policy isn’t as high profile an issue as health care or job creation, the frames that exist to drive voters perceptions of candidates are often greatly influenced by things like a vocal opposition to a commonsense drug policy measure – especially for young people, for whom the issue is often far simpler to grasp. It’s really hard to convince young people that Martha Coakley is the person you need to vote for to bring about “change” after she spent 2008 supporting absurd reefer madness crusades in an attempt to defeat the ballot measure. The fact that Democrats even here in Washington can’t look at these polls and put 2 and 2 together doesn’t make me very optimistic about their chances this November.
UPDATE: Seattle Weekly has a Q&A with Douglas Hiatt of Sensible Washington.