‘Soft on drugs’ talking points go up in smoke

Updated
Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb hands out bags of Doritos with a sticker that spells out rules for marijuana users during Seattle's annual Hempfest.
Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb hands out bags of Doritos with a sticker that spells out rules for marijuana users during Seattle's annual Hempfest.
Associated Press

Attorney General Eric Holder took a step without modern precedent last week, giving Colorado and Washington the green light on voter-approved marijuana-legalization measures. After four decades of a “war on drugs” that only moved in one punitive direction, the Justice Department decided to go in a decidedly more progressive direction.

Immediately after, congressional Republicans did something fascinating: nothing.

A stark radio silence is emanating from Republicans on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) decision this week not to sue Colorado and Washington state, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana, or other states that have approved its medicinal use.

While Democrats have largely supported the state initiatives – and lauded the DOJ’s decision on Thursday – Republicans have historically objected to the legalization and decriminalization of pot.

And yet, only a handful of GOP lawmakers have weighed in against this week’s landmark DOJ announcement, which helped clear the muddy waters about how the federal government, which still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug along with heroin and LSD, plans to treat the state measures.

If previous administrations were inclined to take the steps on drug policy the Obama administration has taken, fear kept them from doing so – no one wanted to be condemned as being “soft on drugs” or “soft on crime.”

But the landscape has changed quite quickly. Holder very likely assumed that if there was political pushback, it’d be mild and unpersuasive, if it existed at all. The usual, regressive talking points, the A.G. probably assumed, just don’t resonate the way they used to, and much of the American mainstream has lost its appetite for an expensive policy that tears apart families and communities while failing at its purported goals.

And Holder’s assumptions were correct.

Indeed, this wasn’t the first time.

A few weeks ago, Holder also announced sentencing reforms intended to circumvent mandatory minimums in non-violent drug crimes. And immediately thereafter, Republicans didn’t say much of anything about this, either.

If Republicans thought they could benefit politically from going on the offensive on this, they would. If they had any reason to believe jumping up and down about the rascally Obama administration destroying America by undermining the “drug war” would give them a bump in the polls and/or help motivate the party’s base, that’s exactly what they would do.

But therein lies the point: even GOP leaders don’t see this as a fight worth having anymore.

Roll Call added, “A day after the Department of Justice announced it would not challenge state laws legalizing marijuana, not a single top leader in Congress has weighed in on the issue – signaling, perhaps, the noxious nature of pot politics.”

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) called this “progress.” I’m very much inclined to agree.

Drugs, Eric Holder, Colorado, Washington, Drug Policy and War On Drugs

'Soft on drugs' talking points go up in smoke

Updated