I-502 logo in Washington

Michael Baumgartner, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate in Washington State, recently endorsed an initiative on the ballot this year that would legalize marijuana in the state. From the Seattle Times:

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner on Wednesday endorsed Initiative 502 to legalize retail sales of pot, calling the war on the illicit drug a matter of national security.

The freshman state senator, who is challenging Democrat Maria Cantwell, worked several years ago for a State Department program in Afghanistan to help farmers grow wheat instead of opium poppies.

He said his experience in Helmand province — and watching the U.S.-funded efforts to eradicate Mexican drug cartels — convinced him criminalizing marijuana for adults only enriches traffickers and takes law-enforcement efforts from pursuing organized crime.

Baumgartner is unlikely to win his race against incumbent Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell however. The polling of the race has consistently shown Cantwell with a double digit lead over Buamgartner.

This endorsement, though, could still be significant in two important ways. According to the polls, Republicans tend to be the group least supportive of marijuana legalization. Having a prominent Republican candidate in the state endorse marijuana legalization could convince some in the Republicans base to rethink their position on Initiative 502.

Second, this is another powerful indicator have how radically the politics surrounding marijuana reform have changed in the past decade. As little as ten years ago publicly supporting marijuana legalization was seen as a real political liability. Now there politicians in contested elections, like Baumgartner and King Country Sheriff Steve Strachan, endorsing legalization right before the election, presumably in attempt to make themselves more popular with voters.