Cannabis sativa. (photo: H. Zell / wikimedia)

I find this article in the Boston Herald a very interesting reflection of how quickly the politics of marijuana have changed in just the past few years. The back story is that in 2008 Question 2, a ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession, made it on the ballot in Massachusetts. The measure was actively opposed by many district attorneys, the Attorney General and the Governor. Despite the opposition from top politicians in the state it ended up passing with an incredible 65.2 percent yes vote, garnering even more votes that President Obama.

This year, another marijuana reform initiative which would legalize medical marijuana has made it on the ballot, but very few of the 2008 opponents of decriminalization are showing any interest in publicly fighting against it. While many of the politicians who actively opposed Question 2 seem to personally oppose this new medical marijuana initiative, this time they are keeping their opinions to themselves. From Boston Herald:

“We are convinced that having easier access to use marijuana is not the correct message to send to our young people,” Coakley said in a 2008 video taken by city cable. This past April [Attorney General Martha] Coakley said implementing a new medical marijuana law while avoiding abuse would be a “huge headache,” but through a spokesperson Coakley this week declined to stake out a position on this November’s marijuana ballot question.


Gov. Deval Patrick, who opposed the 2008 decriminalization question, has so far declined to take sides in the 2012 question of legalizing medical marijuana.

“I really have to defer to the medical views about this and individuals will get a chance to vote on this,” Patrick said on WBZ in April. He said, “I haven’t been paying much attention to it.”

At least some of this change can probably be attributed to the fact that medical marijuana and marijuana decriminalization are different policies. They have different legal issues and impact different groups. That said, I think the biggest cause of this remarkable change in public stance is due to politicians acknowledging there has been a massive political shift on marijuana.

Just six years ago marijuana legalization was still a relatively fringe position with nearly twice as many Americans opposed it as in support. That meant for much of these politicians’ careers taking a “tough on pot” stance was a political winner, or at least didn’t cost them anything. With the rapidly growing support for marijuana reform, though, politicians seem to be realizing this is longer the case. In just the past year Ellen Rosenblum won the Oregon attorney general Democratic primary by being the more marijuana-friendly candidate. Similarly, Beto O’Rourke, who rose to fame by publicly supporting legalization, accomplished the incredible task of unseating an incumbent member of Congress in the Democratic primary.

At a national level, while the Obama administration is waging an aggressive war on medical marijuana, President Obama is not bragging about being a diligent drug warrior against pot. Instead, the Obama team is actually going out of their way to hide how bad they are on the issue to young voters. Obama went so far as to lie in a Rolling Stone article about the law to try to dodge responsibility for his administration’s actions. In addition, unnamed Obama aides are getting friendly reporters to write stories claiming that despite his terrible track record, we should trust that Obama will be much more pro-reform in his second term. Even Mitt Romney, who personally strongly opposes marijuana use of any kind, seems to really not want to talk about it.

Given the long length of politicians’ careers and low turnover rates the system is going to remain clogged with politicians who came to power in the drug warriors era for awhile, but there does seem to be a growing recognition among some politicians that being publicly seen as some an anti-weed warrior no longer has a political upside.