The Tribune reports today that Lou Lang, the state rep from Skokie, has about enough votes to get a three-year medical-marijuana trial run in the state. It's been a long road for Lang, who's had polling support behind him (and last year, the support of Republican leader Tom Cross), but still faced an uphill political battle:
But conservative opponents wouldn't bend. "The great state of Montana, Big Sky country, is starting to refer to itself as 'big high country' because they cannot control the runaway problem with medical marijuana," said Representative Jim Sacia, a Republican from Freeport. "This bill is an absolute abomination."
The bill was defeated 61-53, with four reps voting present. Months later, Lang is still upset that the issue got so politicized. "People wouldn't vote for it because they're worried about the next election," he says.
Earlier this year, he says, supporters conducted a statewide poll on public views of medical marijuana. A majority of those polled were in favor of the bill. In fact, Lang says, the lowest support it received in any of the state's 118 house districts was 55 percent.
Lang says he shared the results with legislators who voted no. "They said, 'None of the 55 percent will vote for me because of this bill—but lots of the 45 percent will vote against me for it,'" Lang says. "And therein lies the problem."
Montana? Runaway drug problem?
At the GOP press conference, Peterson asked if Montanans want one-third of high school kids with medical-marijuana cards.
Official state statistics show that 51 people under age 18 have been issued medical marijuana cards as of Feb. 1, or 0.18 percent of the 28,362 people with cards.
As to the Montana House leader's contention that gangs are "infiltrating into the schools, into the neighborhoods, taking down whole neighborhoods," it's not reflected in the violent crime statistics for Montana's largest jurisdictions, according to FBI data from 2000-2010.
"It’s here, it’s going to stay, there’s an awful lot of victimization that goes with it. If it were up to me, I do believe I would legalize it and tax it, particularly in sight of the fact that several other states have now come to that part of their legal system as well."
Fortunately for him, the legalization of medical marijuana and the decriminalization of small amounts of it are expected to be taken up by the Indiana legislature. In New York, Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a good overview of how we got here:
It seems very unlikely that the momentum for legalization will stop on its own. About 50 percent of voters around the country now favor legalizing the drug for recreational use (the number only passed 30 percent in 2000 and 40 percent in 2009), and the younger you are, the more likely you are to favor legal pot. Legalization campaigns have the backing of a few committed billionaires, notably George Soros and Peter Lewis, and the polls suggest that the support for legalization won’t simply be confined to progressive coalitions: More than a third of conservatives are for full legalization, and there is a gender gap, with more men in favor than women. Perhaps most striking of all, an organized opposition seems to have vanished completely.
It's a push that can't be separated from the current economic climate. Economic crisis forces us to reconsider what the government does and doesn't do. The repeal of Prohibition followed the Crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression, with the backing of industry and Wall Street, who saw in it a return to prosperity (and something else to tax besides rich people). Science and advocacy got the push for legalization a long ways, but the Great Recession has pushed it to the brink.
Photograph: Goodnight London (CC by 2.0)