Why are Democrats still not talking about legalizing weed?

On New Year’s Day, it finally became legal in California to sell and buy “recreational” cannibis.

As the New York Times notes, the reaction from Californians was muted, largely because the state had effectively legalized recreational pot long ago through its farcical medicinal marijuana scheme, whose bong-sized loopholes allowed anybody claiming to suffer from any number of unverifiable ailments –– back pain, stress, insomnia –– to buy pot for “medicinal” use.

If the celebration is low-key, the opposition is practically nonexistent. Not just in California, but in the many other states that have legalized pot in recent years. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican (!!), even took state action last year to free up the flow of legal pot after dispensaries quickly ran dry in the first weeks following legalization in the Silver State.

Everything suggests this could be a home-run issue for Democrats looking to get young voters to the polls in a midterm election year. Consider the following:

The opposition to legalization has been utterly discredited by the successes in half-a-dozen states.
Polls show that a solid majority of Americans support legalization.
The election results in states that have legalized show that the cause resonates across the ideological spectrum, with pot legalization performing much better than Hillary Clinton in many rural, Republican areas of Maine and Nevada. It was also legalized in Alaska, hardly a bastion of liberalism.
The only thing that threatens legalization is Donald Trump, or more specifically, his neo-Confederate attorney general.

There are few issues that offer Democrats a better set of conditions than that. And yet, with a few notable exceptions, politicians and consultants crafting their 2018 message still won’t touch the issue. They still view it as a distraction or a niche issue that will have them pegged as stoner-sympathizers. It’s just not something a serious candidate will bother with.

They couldn’t be more mistaken. Marijuana legalization is one of the few opportunities that exist in politics for a politician to promise and deliver a concrete outcome that is universally recognizable. The same can’t be said for most other policies. Just think about how confused and misinformed much of the country is about Obamacare. Even many of its direct beneficiaries don’t understand that their care is the result of a decision made by a Democratic president and Congress and that it is a Republican president and Congress is trying to take it away.

Voters will appreciate politicians who support legalization not just because they agree with the position themselves, but because they will find it refreshing to see a candidate embrace a political taboo.

It’s now been decades that we’ve seen politicians admit that they’ve smoked pot themselves and then pivot, disingenuously, to explaining why it needs to remain illegal. These days, the conventional approach from Democrats is to offer a mealy-mouthed explanation about support for alternative sentencing, rehabilitation, decriminalization of small possession and that you are observing how the legalization process plays out in the states. Enough! Just say, “I support legal pot, dammit!”

Not only is pot legalization good politics, but it’s great policy. It reduces the black market for pot, thereby cutting off crucial financing for criminal organizations, it allows police to focus on more important things and it raises tax revenue for all kinds of great stuff.

I’m not going to argue that marijuana is innocuous. It can lead to hours wasted on TV programming that otherwise wouldn’t be funny and inhaling smoke of any kind comes with health consequences. But it does substantially less damage to the country than alcohol or fast food, neither of which I would support banning.

So far, one of the only politicians I’ve seen who is doing this right is Beto O’Rourke. His chances of taking down Ted Cruz this year are slim, but I honestly believe that Beto’s approach to drug policy makes them less slim.