President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner worked out an agreement that avoided a federal government shutdown this past week. In order to reach a deal, Obama and Reid bowed to GOP demands to ban the District of Columbia from using any money to fund abortions.
But for all of the fierce partisan debate surrounding budget cuts and social “riders,” several supposedly hot-button issues were conspicuously absent from the bickering, namely medical marijuana and needle exchange programs in DC. This is a new development. Until just last year, the District was banned by federal law from implementing a medical marijuana law its residents overwhelmingly passed in 1998.
What happened? Did Republican leaders’ hearts grow several sizes?
Both parties have realized that, when it comes to cultural issues, they are roughly a decade behind the rest of the country, and they’ve taken notice of the fact that we are at a tipping point on drug policy reform. Leaders in Congress are smart people, and they tend to have some thoughtful advisors. But those advisors are practical, even cynical. So it’s particularly notable when cynical, win-at-all-costs strategists abandon what they previously used as a platform for scoring points on the other side. They haven’t done so because they suddenly looked in the mirror and felt icky about being dishonest. Leaders in both parties have realized that the old reefer madness strategies simply don’t work anymore.