Time for Oregon's Democrats to come out of the cannabis closet

By Roy Kaufmann of Washington County, Oregon. Roy is a husband, dad, Washington County Democrat and an advocate for rational, evidence-based marijuana laws. He also does communications on the clock, and some stand-up on the side (this post is not intended to be funny, thankfully).

Over lunch at the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland today, Rep. Earl Blumenauer addressed the City Club of Portland to give a talk about the need for reforming federal marijuana laws, from banking and finance regulations that choke legitimate medical marijuana businesses, to states’ rights policies that would allow states to make their own marijuana policy decisions.

I won't recap it here, except to say, if you want to what true leadership on marijuana policy reform sounds like, listen to the rebroadcast on OPB tonight, or stream the speech on City Club's website soon.

When it comes to the issue of marijuana legalization and regulation, the pace of change is far more disorienting than the most potent strains of bud. Well, close, at least.

In the span of two years, legalization has tipped. Like marriage equality (and immigration), it is no longer a question of if but when, and how. The American public is way ahead of its elected leaders. That is no surprise, disappointing though it might be.

This week, NBC and the Wall Street Journal released a poll showing a solid majority of Americans, 55%, support legalizing marijuana. And a closer look at the poll shows something most of us could guess: 2 out of 3 Democrats, 66%, support legalization, as compared with 38% of Republicans. Even more important, 3 out of 4 voters in the vital 18-34 year old category support legalization.

Legalization is an opportunity for the Democratic Party to remind its voters – and those many voters who have left the D’s to find new homes as Independents – that the Democratic Party still stands for the civil rights of all Americans. It is a chance for Democrats to acknowledge the new reality, and to formally bring smarter pot policy into the Democratic mainstream.

A bit of recent history: In 2010, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer delivered the opening remarks to the annual gathering in Portland of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which was taking place in downtown Portland. There, Blumenauer did what few other elected officials – at any level – were willing to do: he called out the idiocy of prohibition, the catastrophe of the drug war, and the urgent need for common-sense marijuana policies. By the end of 2012, two states would go where no state had gone before – to full, adult-use regulated access. And by the end of 2013, Uruguay would blaze a new trail as the first nation on Earth to establish a national framework for legal cannabis.

Less than four years after his NORML speech, Blumenauer looks visionary, as members of Congress, political candidates and countless others rush to voice their support for reforming marijuana laws, from decriminalization to medicinal cannabis use to full, regulated, adult-use legalization. Granted, Blumenauer is known for taking strong positions on issues that matter to him. And yes, he has one of the safer districts (electorally speaking) in Congress. But it is hard, for me at least, to look at where Blumenauer is and not ask: Will the rest of the Oregon Democratic establishment step up, too? Going beyond our fine state, when will the Democratic Party nationally stand up?

As Democrats hem and haw, this new cannabis paradigm is also opening an opportunity for the Republican Party, in disarray and desperately seeking relevance and credibility with young voters, voters of color and social moderates. Legalization, with strong and clear ties to homeland security, civil liberties, individual responsibility, states’ rights, and more, fits the Republican platform like glass on glass.

So as the NAACP, the ACLU, the California Democratic Party, national leaders, international leaders, ally nations and others are calling for an end to the failure of marijuana prohibition, isn't it time the Democratic Party of Oregon (and nationally) stand together with its historical allies and make the repeal of prohibition -- and the assertion of states' rights -- a priority?

My hope is this: that those advisers whispering in the ears of Oregon’s elected leaders – our Congressional Delegation, our state Legislative Caucus, our Governor, our candidates -- listen to Earl, listen to the questions asked, and pass this message on: it’s time to come out of the cannabis legalization closet.

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