Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“I’ve Got ‘Bigger Fish to Fry’”

Possibly the biggest surprise of election night was the 10-point margin of support for legalization of recreational marijuana. Substantial portions of the establishment opposed it.  But, opposition was largely passionless, providing no real money or manpower. Many opponents appeared to believe legalization was inevitable, but preferred Colorado not be first.

Late polls consistently showed the amendment ahead, but at or below the 50 percent level, often an indication of trouble on Election Day. But, similar to Obama’s final surge, marijuana won by a 10-point margin.

Supporters had an 8-to-1 fundraising advantage and substantial swathes of the Obama coalition – young voters, minorities and liberals – supported it.

But, the win was beyond the usual liberal bastions of Boulder, Denver and the state’s ski areas. The initiative received more votes than the President statewide and carried the swing Front Range counties of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Larimer. But more impressively, it won narrow victories in Republican-dominated counties Obama lost of El Paso and Weld.
Governor John Hickenlooper expressed initial resistance to implementation (“Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish”), pointing out that there was still federal law against possession, even small amounts, of marijuana. But, he has since accepted the responsibility to sign the initiative and assemble a task force to consider rules and regulations. Washington State also passed and must deal with implementation.

U.S. public opinion appears to have moved toward support of legalization. A recent Washington Post poll shows it tied at 47 percent for and against, and Gallup has it 48 percent to legalize and 50 percent to leave it illegal (down from 62% leaving it illegal in 2000).

But more importantly for federal enforcement and the implementation of Colorado’s and Washington’s new laws is that a substantial percentage of Americans believe the federal government should leave the issue to the states and not enforce federal anti-marijuana laws (Gallup – 64% no enforcement; Washington Post – 59% leave to states).

Reflecting the voters’ decision in Colorado and Washington and the shifting public opinion, President Obama has declared enforcement of small amounts will not be a priority of the administration. “I’ve got ‘bigger fish to fry.’”

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