Today, the United States Judiciary Committee passed legislation reforming federal drug sentencing, as the Drug Policy Alliance reported, that was almost as surprising — at least in terms of who combined to pass it — as it is significant. The Smarter Sentencing Act will cut minimum mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, reform the sentencing disparity between those convicted of crack cocaine offenses vs. powder cocaine, and expand a judge’s ability to use his/her own discretion in each individual case. The senators that combined to create the bill include Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Yes, Dick Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip for the Democratic Party, and three other democrats from consistently blue states have combined with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, among others. You’re reading that right.
How did this happen? No one here at SSDP is anything but overjoyed at this news, but it still leads us to wonder just how this breakthrough took place, especially given the bipartisan nature of it. But, when we look at it further, it seems that reform of drug laws, is one of the few issues that is crossing party lines in 2014.
And this is especially true as it relates to marijuana laws. Missouri recently became the newest state to introduce a cannabis legalization bill, and even Governor Rick Perry of Texas said that the plant should be decriminalized. (By only supporting decriminalization, he didn’t go far enough, but even supporting decriminalization is a big step for Texas.) The House of Reps in New Hampshire, the only New England state that hasn’t decriminalized marijuana yet and the most conservative of the six states, looked at its New England counterparts and said, “You know what? Let’s one up them. We’re voting for full blown legalization.”
Most would assume that marijuana legalization, whether medical or recreational, would be an issue supported by far more democrats than republicans. So why are some red states beginning to see the light faster than many blue ones, and why is marijuana legalization seemingly the only issue that brings liberals and conservatives together these days?
Well, for one, marijuana legalization might be an easier concept for republican leaders than we would assume. If Ted Cruz or Rand Paul can turn to their supporters and say, “I realized just how much marijuana prohibition cost the United States taxpayers, and I viewed this legislation as a way to put more money back in your pockets,” that might be a relatively easy sell to their bases. Or maybe the US Judiciary Committee got wind of our very own Devon Tackels cross-examining the Drug Czar in 2012 on National TV.
But if I had to guess the most important reason that party lines are being crossed in the matter of marijuana legalization, it’s this: No fingers have been pointed so far. What I mean is that politicians around the country have not turned this issue into one that is overly-partisan. We’ve had many a liberal blame other side and say to our senior citizens “These guys wanna take away your medicare,” and we’ve had many a conservative yell “These guys are socialists” about liberals on the issue of taxing the rich. We haven’t had that level of finger-pointing about marijuana. If there’s one thing we know about our congress that had its lowest number of bills passed last year in our country’s 237 year history, it’s that, when the argument becomes even slightly personal, they can resemble spiteful eighth graders and refuse to work together on an issue, no matter how important it might be.
Luckily, that hasn’t happened with marijuana legislation reform. Our lawmakers don’t have the same predisposition to pick sides and hate each other on this issue. Now, it might not be too long before such lines get dug in the sand, but hopefully we’ll have made enough of a dent in the issue to make sure that, when the immature partisan politics come, the issue of marijuana legalization will have made enough progress that rational thinking trumps partisan immaturity.