His stance on gay marriage, gun control, and the tax code is patently progressive, but there’s one area where Martin O’Malley’s liberal label doesn’t fit.
The Maryland Senate on Friday voted to decriminalize marijuana, and the bill, if it passes the House of Delegates, will head to the governor’s desk for a signature. Its passage could put O’Malley, who built a name for himself as the “tough on crime” mayor of Baltimore in the early 2000s, in a strange position not just vis-a-vis his state, but nationally.
The governor is touring the country and talking up the possibility of a presidential run in 2016, even as he has continued to voice his firm opposition to marijuana reform, an issue that’s been gaining traction in Maryland and beyond.
O’Malley’s would be running from the left of the Democratic party, but his record on drug reform hasn’t been in tune with that. What’s more, polling shows there’s very limited space for a liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton: Only 10 percent of Democrats say they would want someone more liberal than Clinton, according to a recent CNN/ORC International Poll. Even anti-Obama candidate Brian Schweitzer’s drug policies are more in tune with liberal youth.
All three of the Democratic candidates seeking to replace O’Malley as governor are vying to out-marijuana-reform one another. And Democratic primary voters around the country overwhelmingly support not just medical marijuana and decriminalization measures, but outright legalization.
There’s some evidence his stance on the issue is evolving. In May of 2011 O’Malley signed a bill allowing seriously ill patients to avoid prosecution when charged with possession of medical marijuana and setting up a commission to study how medical marijuana laws might be implemented in Maryland in the future. In 2012 there was a step away from reform when a spokeswoman said he would veto a bill on medical marijuana. But then in 2013 his administration again signaled it would be willing to back a medical marijuana bill that met certain contingencies, such as the “flexibility” to suspend the program should the federal government intervene with the distribution of what it still considers an illegal drug. (O’Malley had signed a preliminalry medical marijuana bill in 2013 that allows distribution from a handful of “academic medical centers,” but none have been willing to participate thusfar).
The bill that passed Friday in Maryland’s Senate, which would reduce the fine for carrying an ounce of weed from $500 to $100 and eliminate jail time, is fairly modest in its reforms. Can O’Malley possibly veto this sort of bill and go on to be taken seriously as a national Democratic contender for president?
Back in 2008, Barack Obama found a way around the issue by suggesting that the question of legalization be left to the states. That answer was good enough then, but it was a lifetime ago where drug policy is concerned. A dodge on marijuana reform is unlikely to be acceptable now, when 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for medical purposes, two states have opted for full-scale legalization, and polling shows Democratic voters are unequivocally not on O’Malley’s side of this issue anymore. “It’s definitely something he’ll be asked about,” Marijuana Majority spokesman Tom Angell said, “particularly by young voters on the 2016 campaign trail, should he throw his hat in the ring.”
O’Malley just spoke at the California Democratic Party’s state convention, where medical marijuana has long been legal and delegates even made legalizing marijuana part of the party platform. In May, he’s slated to be keynote speaker at a Democratic Party awards reception in Massachusetts, where voters passed a decriminalization ballot measure in 2008 by a 2-to-1 margin and overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana bill in 2012.
The decriminalization bill headed to O’Malley’s desk isn’t his only problem. On Monday the Maryland House of Delegates passed a medical-marijuana bill 127 to 9.
If O’Malley thinks opposing incremental marijuana reforms is a way to excite young, liberal voters in a presidential contest, he hasn’t been reading the tea leaves. Or the polling. What he decides to do if and when that decriminalization bill comes to his desk will say a lot about his national viability.
This post has been updated for clarity.
What We're Following See More »
The Commission on Presidential Debates put out a statement today that gives credence to Donald Trump's claims that he had a bad microphone on Monday night. "Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall," read the statement in its entirety.
"A video of Donald Trump testifying under oath about his provocative rhetoric about Mexicans and other Latinos is set to go public" as soon as today. "Trump gave the testimony in June at a law office in Washington in connection with one of two lawsuits he filed last year after prominent chefs reacted to the controversy over his remarks by pulling out of plans to open restaurants at his new D.C. hotel. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman said in an order issued Thursday evening that fears the testimony might show up in campaign commercials were no basis to keep the public from seeing the video."
No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."
"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."