Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

6 November 2014

Bill Clinton assured the public that he hadn’t inhaled. Some 15 years later, Barack Obama was happy to admit he’d gone all the way. “That was the point,” he told the press back in 2006, before running for president.

The two statements about marijuana use reveal different political animals, perhaps, but also show how times have dramatically changed. It’s no longer political suicide to admit using soft drugs. Perhaps even the harder stuff, too, if Rob Ford’s crack-smoking mayoral tenure in Toronto is anything to go by.

Voters turned out for midterm elections on Tuesday in which the marijuana question had never been so prevalent.

One reason is the rise of the Libertarian movement. Last month its biggest name – Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential hopeful – was plastered over the front cover of Time magazine with the hyperbolic slogan: “The most interesting man in politics”. Libertarians – opposed to big government and all of its diktats, from marijuana legislation to costly Middle Eastern wars – at times sound as if they are stealing liberals’ thunder.

North Carolina Senatorial hopeful Sean Haugh took it one step further on Tuesday, campaigning on a legalisation ticket, his TV campaign spot declaring “Vote Haugh, get high”. He came third, however, with just 3.75 per cent of the vote.

Things got rather more serious in Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC with ballot initiatives – essentially a referendum question included in the ballot alongside candidate choices – on the question of legalising the drug for recreational use. The move – passed by all three and nearly 70 per cent of voters in DC – came hot on the heels of Washington state and Colorado’s recent legalisation moves.

It will be interesting to see where the federal government will go from here. Prior to the midterms, it has chosen not to intervene in the two states that have defied the national government – under which marijuana technically remains illegal – to go it alone. More states are due to vote on the question in 2016, including liberal bastion California, in what could be a drip-drip redrawing of the US’s marijuana map.

What is certain is that weed talk is no longer taboo like race or immigration. And while the country remains fairly divided – 54 per cent of Americans support legalisation according to the Pew Research Center – the pendulum seems to be swinging in favour of the pro-camp.

The midterms, of course, are only part of the story. Republicans and Democrats are now eyeing 2016 – and both sides may be coming to the conclusion that there is more political kudos in saying that you inhaled.

Ed Stocker is Monocle’s New York bureau chief.

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