Steve Chapman

Legalizing marijuana is an issue made to order for the Democratic Party. A majority of Americans now supports the idea, and so do two out of three Democrats. Two states have done it, and several more may vote on it in 2016.

The party could put the issue to use against Republicans, who have no desire to be the party of weed. Can you imagine Rick Santorum or Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan endorsing legalization? Even libertarian Rand Paul declines to go that far.

He is not misreading his party. Chris Christie will lose no votes in the primaries for saying, as he did last month, "I don't favor legalization. I don't favor recreational use. I don't favor decriminalization. And I don't favor the use of marijuana as a medicine."

So the GOP is locked into a position that is steadily losing appeal with the public. Worse yet, support for legalization is highest among young people and lowest among seniors. Rejecting it is a great way to worsen the Republicans' ominous demographic problem.

There's only one thing standing in the way of the Democratic Party using the pot issue to win elections, curtail arrests of minorities, free money for social programs and cement the allegiance of young voters: Democratic politicians.

Start with Hillary Clinton. Her husband may have tried weed, but she has never attested to such youthful indiscretions, probably because she never committed them. As secretary of state, she spoke out against legalization of cannabis, and in 2008 she rejected even decriminalization.

That stance is no accident. Clinton got involved in politics in the 1970s, when Democrats were tarred as hippies and draft-dodgers -- embracing "acid, amnesty and abortion," Republicans alleged. If Democrats of that era learned anything, they learned to look and sound like they couldn't find Woodstock on a map.

Shedding an ingrained persona at her age does not come easy. My bet is you'll see Dick Cheney on a skateboard before you'll see Clinton go after the stoner vote. If she's the 2016 presidential nominee, legalizers will have to look elsewhere.

Democratic governors also blanch at the sight of a pipe. New York's Andrew Cuomo, who only recently accepted medical marijuana, rejects legalization. Connecticut's Dannel Malloy says, "I don't think we are ready, or want to go down that road."


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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