When It Comes to Weed, Wendy Davis Has Company

She was just one of three gubernatorial candidates to back marijuana reform this week. Even the GOP is getting into it.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Feb. 12, 2014, 8:29 a.m.

Texas gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate Wendy Dav­is, she who may or may not be able to “Have It All,” made head­lines Tues­day for her vo­cal sup­port for med­ic­al marijuana and eas­ing the leg­al pen­al­ties as­so­ci­ated with pos­ses­sion of small amounts of the drug. Her views sound a lot like what sit­ting Texas Gov. Rick Perry said at the World Eco­nom­ic For­um in Da­v­os, Switzer­land, last month when he high­lighted his work to­ward de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion (cur­rently marijuana pos­ses­sion is a class B mis­de­mean­or pun­ish­able by fines and jail time).

“I do be­lieve that Gov­ernor Perry’s ap­proach is a reas­on­able ap­proach,” she told the Dal­las Morn­ing News, “that we as a state need to think about the cost of that in­car­cer­a­tion and, ob­vi­ously, the cost to the tax­pay­ers as a con­sequence of it, and wheth­er we’re really solv­ing any prob­lem for the state by vir­tue of in­car­cer­a­tions for small amounts of marijuana pos­ses­sion.”

Sure, the drug is already leg­al for med­ic­al pur­poses in 20 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia and fully leg­al in Wash­ing­ton and Col­or­ado. But the fact that re­form is res­on­at­ing in Texas, a state known for its ornery con­ser­vat­ive eth­os, is something of a vic­tory for ad­voc­ates. (Dav­is’s Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ent Greg Ab­bott is in fa­vor of the status quo.)

An­oth­er vic­tory? In Mary­land, gubernat­ori­al hope­ful Lt. Gov. An­thony Brown just came out in fa­vor of de­crim­in­al­iz­ing the drug, call­ing the state’s marijuana laws “costly, in­ef­fect­ive, and ra­cially biased.” Brown’s de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion re­marks came at the prompt­ing of one of his primary op­pon­ents, dark-horse can­did­ate Heath­er Mizeur, who’s made full leg­al­iz­a­tion a center­piece of her cam­paign. The Mary­land Marijuana De­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion Act, which would re­duce pen­al­ties for car­ry­ing an ounce of the stuff to a $100 fine, will be com­ing up for a vote, and Mizeur, who in­tro­duced the meas­ure in her ca­pa­city as a Demo­crat­ic state del­eg­ate, wanted Brown to weigh in. Mizeur said Monday Brown’s words are not enough: “If he truly cares about the people who are cur­rently neg­at­ively im­pacted by our marijuana pro­hib­i­tion laws, then I ex­pect him to ac­cept my in­vit­a­tion to put polit­ics aside and join me in testi­fy­ing in fa­vor of this le­gis­la­tion at the bill hear­ing.”

And in Pennsylvania, gubernat­ori­al hope­ful Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the front-run­ner in the race for the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion, said she sup­ports med­ic­al marijuana and would be open to de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion (her primary op­pon­ent is for full leg­al­iz­a­tion, but un­likely to win). “I do be­lieve that marijuana is over-crim­in­al­ized. And what we should do is de­crim­in­al­ize pos­ses­sion,” Schwartz said.

This at a time when, as Dave Wei­gel noted in Slate, an in­creas­ing num­ber of con­ser­vat­ives are get­ting ready to shed the GOP’s law-and-or­der im­age. Late last month, the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ap­proved the Smarter Sen­ten­cing Act, co­sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, he law­maker who gave the tea party’s re­sponse to Pres­id­ent Obama’s State of the Uni­on ad­dress this year. And Sen. Rand Paul’s re­cent speech rail­ing against the crim­in­al-justice sys­tem was sur­pris­ingly warmly re­ceived by more tra­di­tion­al con­ser­vat­ives.

Off the Hill, sit­ting gov­ernors are get­ting smart to the idea of re­form: Charlie Crist re­cently en­dorsed the med­ic­al ini­ti­at­ive in Flor­ida, call­ing it an “is­sue of com­pas­sion“; New Jer­sey’s Chris Christie in his second in­aug­ur­al ad­dress last month slammed the war on drugs; Bobby Jin­dal said he’d con­sider leg­al­iz­ing med­ic­al marijuana in Louisi­ana; and Ore­gon Gov. John Kitzhaber de­scribed leg­al­iz­a­tion as “in­ev­it­able.”

“It’s nice to see so many politi­cians fi­nally start­ing to real­ize that marijuana re­form is a polit­ic­al as­set and not a li­ab­il­ity,” said Tom An­gell of the pro-leg­al­iz­a­tion group Marijuana Ma­jor­ity. “For too long, elec­ted of­fi­cials who sup­por­ted chan­ging marijuana laws kept their thoughts to them­selves.”

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