What’s The Problem with Elected Officials and Marijuana?

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel May 16, 2016

    C1_8734_r_xEvery state that has fully legalized marijuana to date has accomplished that change by voter initiative, which means a majority of the voting public in those states clearly favored ending marijuana prohibition. However most statewide elected officials in those states publicly opposed legalization prior to the vote; and even after the initiatives passed, many attempt to undermine the new laws.

    These out-of-step public officials must be dismayed that their opposition to legalization appears to have had little impact on the voters, who no longer trust their elected officials to determine marijuana policy.

    Which raises the question of why so many of our elected officials remain so dismissive of the public health and other advantages of a regulated marijuana market over a black market. When presented with a choice, they frequently exaggerate the potential dangers from marijuana and embrace the status quo, ignoring the massive costs of prohibition.


    Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, first elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, who made his fortune as founder of the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, was a leading opponent of Amendment 64 in 2012 when it was approved by 55% of the voters.

    Still today, when asked whether pot legalization has been a good thing, or a bad thing, for Colorado, the governor can’t quite decide. The new law has created tens of thousands of new jobs in the state, is currently bringing in well over $120 million in taxes to the state treasury each year, and has reduced marijuana arrests in Colorado by 80%, but the governor continues to contradict himself from one day to the next – depending on what audience he is addressing.

    During his re-election campaign in 2014 Hickenlooper called the legalization of marijuana in Colorado “reckless,” although he had no problem soliciting campaign donations from the marijuana industry behind closed doors.

    And in 2015, he told CNBC “If I could’ve waved a wand the day after the election (in 2012), I would’ve reversed the election and said, ‘This was a bad idea.’ You don’t want to be the first person to do something like this,” he said, advising other governors to “wait a couple of years” before moving forward with legalization.

    This man, who became rich selling alcohol, just can’t seem to get comfortable with legal marijuana, despite the obvious benefits to his state, and the popularity of legalization with Colorado voters.

    And in the states expected to have full legalization on the ballot this November, the most prominent state elected officials continue to bury their heads in the sand.


    The most organized opposition to a pending legalization initiative this year can be found in Massachusetts. A bipartisan coalition of public officials, calling themselves “A Campaign for A Safe and Healthy Massachusetts,” has announced their commitment to maintaining marijuana prohibition in MA. The anti-marijuana coalition includes Republican Governor Charles Baker, along with State Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, all Democrats. It is truly a “who’s who” of Massachusetts state politics.

    The basis for their opposition, they say, is that legalization poses a public health and safety threat, especially to young people.

    Governor Baker explained his opposition to the legalization initiative in a statement warning against “legalizing a recreational marketplace for a drug that would put our children at risk and threaten to reverse our progress combating the growing opioid epidemic so this industry can rake in millions in profits.”

    And Mayor Walsh recently explained his opposition. “I’ve met far too many families in Boston and elsewhere where kids have lost their way in school and been shut out of success in the workplace due to addiction and abuse of marijuana. Where marijuana is legal, young people are more likely to use it and a vote against legalizing the commercial marijuana industry is a vote to protect our kids and communities.”

    Of course, no one is suggesting that kids should be using marijuana, and American teens themselves tell us each year in federal surveys that under prohibition, marijuana is easier for them to obtain than alcohol, because of the age requirement for alcohol. A regulated marijuana market would provide a significant deterrence against the use of marijuana by minors whereas no one ever asks for an ID in the black market.

    Despite this high-profile establishment opposition in MA, legalization advocates continue to anticipate a victory in November, expecting the voters to have grown disillusioned by these tired scare tactics.


    In Arizona, Republican Governor Doug Ducey has been a vocal public opponent of the legalization initiative in his state, saying he believes the majority of problems the state faces can be linked back to drugs “from unemployment, to homelessness, to domestic violence, to child neglect, to our prison population”.


    In California, Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has been silent regarding his position on the pending legalization initiative, although back in 2014 he expressed his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana, observing “if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation.”

    I should note that current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy to study policy options, has endorsed the pending legalization initiative in CA (AUMA), and supported efforts to qualify the measure for the ballot. He is somewhat unique among statewide elected officials, and his public support has provided a needed boost to the legalization effort in that state.


    In Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage has long opposed efforts to legalize marijuana, despite polling showing majority public support, calling it a “gateway drug.” The governor actually called for the state to “bring back the guillotine” to publicly behead drug traffickers!


    In Nevada, Republican Governor Brian Sandoval has indicated he too opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana, but he does not appear to have made a big deal about his opposition. Nevada is a state that has long understood the benefits of regulating gambling, but the principle apparently does not extend to marijuana.

    Victims of Their Own Propaganda

    To some degree, what we see in all of these states reflects the cautious instincts of most elected officials. Their top priority is getting re-elected, and they see change, especially involving contentious social issues, as politically risky behavior. That underlying reality explains why not a single state legislature has yet approved full legalization.

    But with current polling clearly showing a majority of the country now supporting legalization, fear of a political backlash should be abating. Perhaps this refusal by most elected officials to acknowledge the obvious benefits to legalization is based on an unwillingness to finally admit what the rest of us have known all along – their passionately-held anti-marijuana views were based on ignorance, prejudice and misinformation.

    To some degree, they are the victims of their own propaganda. And they can’t let go of those dated views without acknowledging their complicity in the misguided and destructive war on marijuana smokers. The policy they support has resulted in the senseless arrest and prosecution of tens of millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans, simply because they smoke pot. And our elected officials do not wish to accept that responsibility.

    Instead of moving forward with a fresh approach, these public officials prefer to assume the voters have been fooled, or they are stupid, or otherwise incapable of making these decisions for themselves.

    That screeching we are hearing from the establishment politicians in these states is the sound of a dying breed, squarely on the wrong side of history. Where do they get these clowns?

    Fortunately for the reform community, voters are way ahead of their elected representatives on our issue. And the time is coming for our elected officials to catch-up or be held accountable and replaced at the ballot box by these same voters.


    This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.

    40 responses to “What’s The Problem with Elected Officials and Marijuana?”

    1. KansanForLegalization says:

      This stagnation and utter disregard for the consituents of the states with ballot iniatives has to be annoying. For those of us who live in the states without ballot initiatives though, we feel completely disassociated with out local governments and more comfortable being labeled a criminal. Me simply putting my name beside this comment could result in an investigation of myself. I feel I have no voice where I live, despite my belief that the majority of my fellow citizens are of the mind that cannabis should be completely legal.

      • Mark Mitcham says:

        I understand exactly what you mean.

        Having spent formative years growing up in the bible belt, I have lived the majority of my life with just such a criminal mentality as you have described. It influences your identity in profound ways.

        I was lucky to be at ground zero, Denver Colorado, when the citizens voted for legalization. (I love ya, Colorado!) You could say society opened the door for me, just a crack. But I’m 55 years old; my identity has already largely been formed. Legalization has left me without an identity, to that extent. A marijuana tattoo in Denver won’t even get you noticed, much less “investigated!” But of course, I’m cool with that.

        Here is what I wanted to tell you: it may take a couple of years for the paranoia to fade (I no longer wonder if every strange knock on the door is the police: so what if it is? I answer the door with my pipe in hand.) But, you can claim your rightful place at the table with the rest of the citizens. No longer will you need to self-identify as a “criminal” out of moral necessity, when the laws themselves are immoral.

        We here on the blog see you as an honorable citizen.

    2. wounded says:

      I am a conservative and have broken away from the republican party’s line of ignorance.I won’t vote for anyone who can’t learn as some of the republicans have demonstrated.I have hope as I have witnessed the power of education on even very conservative people who took the time and read the cold hard facts about cannabis.The destructive power of alcohol has been on the record ever since paper and writers were united yet cannabis and its good for all man kind predates all written accounts.I don’t need to conduct a study its already been done.

      • Julian says:

        Hello Wounded,
        I’ll get straight to the point; I’m a self-described conservative-progressive-liberal who avidly lobbies my conservative Republican representatives. I just marched with the most honorable Texas veterans I’ve ever met. I know hemp is conservative because it conserves water as compared to corn and cotton. I just planted corn, beans and squash in my valley with this blessed rain for my family’s sustainability after I marched this weekend knowing full well that 1). One day those seeds will also be hemp and marijuana and 2). another drought is around the corner and ranchers could be feeding hemp to their cattle instead of selling their prize herds to genetically engineered corn that sucks our precious water and soil out for the sake of Monsantos and some sick patenting law that should never exist. Corn was cultivated for human stove, kettle or coal-cooked consumption, NOT for raw feed for cattle. Hemp can change this.
        But if marching this weekend taught me anything it’s that marijuana legalization is a bi-partisan, American issue. I am Democrat. I am Republican. I am for legally regulated marijuana. I am American. And so are we.

        • Julian says:

          Hi Wounded,
          I feel compelled to apologize for what appears to be a highly contentious post that insinuates that you don’t understand the concept of bipartisan marijuana activism. If that is what you perceived, I apologize, because I really don’t know that about you, I just wanted to share how being a marijuana activist in Texas really sets us on the fence between extremes… Or as the Comanche and the Totanka Indians used to call Texas “the land between two fires.” I think they were referring to being caught between two nations, two different geographic regions, or perhaps there was a meaning lost in translation. Politically, the difference between a progressive liberal and a Libertarian Republican could not be more different… But we share similar feelings on marijuana legalization at least.

          I know from your previous posts you are a veteran, and if you ever had a residence in Texas that means you can participate in our Wounded Warrior Project

          What I don’t know is if my letter to my Representative Lamar Smith will resonate to support the marijuana access for veterans amendment, (take action link) knowing he pledges support to veterans and yet does not support marijuana. So I educate him; I write about Dr. Sue Sisley and how marijuana mitigates veterans suicide and treats PTSD by turning it into PTSGrowth. I allow facts to show my enemies that there is a path to the correct side of history, and the value is worth more than gold, or even an election. So as activists, we become bipartisan educators, and our research never ends.

    3. Julian says:

      That “screeching” sound is the prohibitionist cry of “but what about my easy money from private prisons, Sherriff’s Associations and multi-billion dollar, mass-murdering opiate peddling drug dealers we call pharmaceutical companies? How will I get reelected NOW?”
      Easy. You won’t cause you’re a lousy bloodsucking prohibitionist fuck. Your days are numbered.
      That’s right; Sorry you lousy prohibitionist fucks, you do not get to imprison us and kill us for consuming a nonviolent plant we can’t even overdose on, then blame your police-state violence on marijuana instead of prohibition as if the majority of the public didn’t already figure out you’re full of $#!+.

      (Inhaaaaale…. Aaaah… Exhaaaaale…)

      Have these guys even figured out the next generation isn’t even listening to them or watch CNN any more than they read the laws the lobbyists tell them to pass?
      The new generation of voters get their news from independent sources on Youtube, non-for-profits like here at NORML, or from someone’s facebook posting right next to someone’s ass hanging out passed out drunk from the party! (Damn good thing my generation didn’t have cell phone cameras before all our stupid shit could get posted on social media to remind the world why marijuana is safer than alcohol… I’ll bet these old fucks opposing marijuana legalization are pretty happy about that too!!!)

      • Julian says:

        Nothing like a face-down buck-naked drunk posting on social media to remind us pot-smokers why marijuana is safer than alcohol! 🙂

        • Julian says:

          Talk about a twilight moment;
          During our march on Saturday in Austin the thunder must have reached Dallas as marijuana activists managed to get these two gems voted onto the Republican platform;

          Saturday: Results were announced! Plank #165 passed by 78% (6501 For / 1804 Against)! Here is the exact verbiage of the new plank:
          “Compassionate Use Act – We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.”

          Additionally, a Hemp plank passed by 71% (5800 For / 2385 against) that reads as follows:
          “Hemp Cultivation- We support legislation allowing for industrial hemp cultivation in Texas.”

          That really makes me feel like getting stuck in a storm having to buy new shoes at Neaman Marcus after marching in a thunderstorm was worth it! (Still think whoever buys a $550 flip flop that says “Valentino” on it should be slapped with it and locked in the Dollar Tree). We’re making medicine available for my nephew and continuing with my dream to grow hemp in my land, and it finally feels like it’s gonna happen!1 To all of you out there marching in the rain, honking your horns in support (We hope), and lobbying our representatives THANK YOU. Were doing it. And it doesn’t matter whose platform it is, were coming to your convention and were building it out of hemp and marijuana.

          The longer the battle, the sweeter the victory.

          • Cat Cassie says:

            Did you go to Law School? If not you should consider it. The movement needs people like you. You have that in your face style but with logic and reason that would leave a Prohibitionist saying I don’t really know why I’m against it….maybe because so and so is or because of those stupid anti-drug movies we watched in school in the 60s and 70s. Anyway you have an obvious talent that could help a lot people.

            • Julian says:

              Thank you Cat Cassie, for your kind words in response to my rather derogatory rant, but I believe we all have many talents that don’t necessarily have to evolve into licensed degrees or careers. (Just make damn sure you call yourself a “legal interpreter” or don’t sign anything when providing legal advice). Citizen lobbying is quite effective and does not require a law degree, for example; just the nerve, the knowledge and the adequate volume to corner your Congressman where he can hear your voice over their staffer sent to block you. “I KNOW you can HEAR me Congressman… You’re right THERE in the NEXT ROOM…” (No seriously, don’t do that… Unless your representative or Governor happens to be anyone Keith just mentioned, Senator Sessions or Rep. Lamar Smith… Then by all means you can be a complete @$$#0le). 😉
              BTW… My “face”? Were you at the rally? or lucky guess from the local coverage? I dont even facebook, but I guess its not that hard to ID someone these days, even without disclosing my full name.

            • Cat Cassie says:

              No I wasn’t at the rally. When I said you had an “In Your Face Style” I was referring to the way you write. Always enjoy reading your posts on here.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Compassionate Use Act – We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.”

            This has failure written all over it due to the fact that doctors can only RECOMMEND cannabis to their patients. It’s another stall tactic that allows this to only look like progress but will oh be fucked up even more.

            Children die from brain seizures, it’s sad, horrible and completely preventable especially if more pregnant mothers ate hemp and cut back a little on the folic acid.

            But what do I know I’m just a stupid internet troll.

            • Julian says:

              Whew! You said it! Allow me to dispel your Trolliness with some facts.
              You missed the word “improve.” TexasNORML, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, RAMP, MAMMA… Pretty much every active marijuana legalization group in Texas knows that “recommends” must be changed from the language of “diagnose” in state law because as long as Federal law prohibits marijuana, if doctors “prescibe” it they will lose their license. So guess what? No doctors are volunteering to prescribe cannabis in the State of Texas. Big surprise.

              And “cut back on folic acid,” Jeez, anonymous, where do you get your facts, CNN?

              To the contrary, women who think they even MIGHT get pregnant should take regular prenatal dosage of folic acid to prevent neurological deformations or disorders. Whole Plant Cannabis concentrates or infused oils are the best topical treatment for specific pains and even melonoma that will help the neurological growth of an unborn baby.

              Finally, adding these votes to the Republican platform before the next legislative session in a highly Republican state is hardly what I would qualify as a “setback.”

              I can’t promise these facts will stop making you an internet troll. But with regular consumption of marijuana and perhaps some natural folic acid from fresh fruits and vegetables, perhaps you can give birth to a new human identity. Never stop researching. 🙂

        • Mark Mitcham says:

          Been there, done that.
          Quit drinking, eventually got over self-loathing. But my reputation? Shiiiit…. Gone forever! Oh well.

    4. Mark Mitcham says:

      This is the kind of thing that almost broke my mind, years ago as a young adult, when I began to realize the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of our society. It was, and is still, horrifying and astonishing to me.

      I feel most betrayed by the Democrats. The Republicans have always worn their hostility on their sleeve; but these neo-liberal Democratic politicians have sold their soul to Corporate America, and they should know better. Shame Shame.

      These ass-clown politicians should take their cue from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondant who, in 2013, publicly apologized for his own role in misleading the public about marijuana. He said he himself had been misled, and that he hadn’t checked his facts hard enough. Here is his quote:

      “I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

      They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.”

      • anonymous1 says:

        Sounds like Michelle Leonhart before she got the boot.

        (“Why is Cannabis bad?” Well, it’s a schedule 1 drug that has no known medical value and high potential for abuse.

        “Why is it a schedule 1 drug under the CSA?” Because Cannabis is bad. It’s a drug. )

        • Mark Mitdham says:

          Right. Circular Logic will set your head spinning, unless you put a stop to it!!

    5. Todd says:

      Maybe freedom and democracy mean to politicians that everything we need is already legal, but that is exactly the definition of a dictatorship or tyranny. Democracy by its nature is dynamic and doesn’t always suit everybody, but those people must make up the minority or else the democracy and its freedoms have ended.

    6. Don E says:

      In large part, this institutionalized, irrational fear of all things cannabis speaks to the effectiveness of anti-marijuana propaganda since the 1930’s. Journalists deserve a lot of blame for the persistence of the lies, as they were also swept into the emotionally charged but factually barren moral panic over marijuana.

      Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s public epiphany made a major crack in that dam of official resistance to reality, and the crumbling has begun, but it is a dense construct to overcome. My sense is that this dam is getting ready to burst, and fundamental change may come quickly on the Federal level sooner than we expect.

      • Julian says:

        True, while CNN is not the best place to get our facts, Dr. Gupta is a shining exception, and I often refer him to our legislators.

    7. JC Physics Prof says:

      The Flaws and Contradictory effects of these drug war policies are glaringly obvious to any logical thinker. I love the way that Cannabis makes the user ask questions about our policy makers, shining light on the corrupt, self-serving, and delusional among them.

    8. Rod is on the gas says:

      Her in my home county of California we have a new and interesting election on June 7. The incumbent is a flaming prohibitionist seeking his reelection on the same tried and true anti-marijuana logic that got him elected previously.

      However, we also have 2 marijuana advocates also seeking his position on the Board of County Supervisors. The campaign is hotly contested based upon the changing public opinion over everything cannabis. The old dinosaur is over-whelmed. The younger and progressive minds are strong and decisive.

      We need to swear-in new people everywhere.

    9. Miles says:

      It is painfully obvious why Americans don’t trust our government. From what I can tell the most successful politicians are often the most accomplished liars

    10. Raven says:

      This is very interesting. States-Rights Conservatives trying to have it both ways. The people are very well capable of making their own decisions except when it comes to drug policy. All of the sudden, the people and the states are to stupid to make their own decisions. especially when the CSA alows states to do so.

      The utter hypocracy continues.