I spoke with Hamsher this week about her new push, just how marijuana should be legalized, and where marijuana sits (or doesn't sit) in the Netroots matrix. The following is a lightly edited transcript of most of that interview:
CG: First of all, how did you get involved in this?
JH: Our drug policy on marijuana is causing increasing problems on a variety of issues. It's exacerbating the immigration problem at the border, because it's putting so much money into the pockets of drug cartels. They're then using it to arm themselves and create tremendous crime problems, but it's also placing a huge burden on our prison system and on our state budgets, in addition to the fact that it's keeping people who would like to use marijuana for medical purposes from having access to it, and there's tremendous popular support among young people for legalization, so it seemed like a good time to bring all these things together.
CG: Do you see a lot of support for legalizing marijuana in the Netroots community, or in the more staid progressive community including unions, civil rights groups, and people like that?
JH: Well, interestingly enough, the issue has never gained traction in the quote-unquote liberal political blogosphere. People were always a little bit nervous about it. So it hasn't had support, but it's tremendously popular on the Internet and among the Obama surge voters.
CG: I remember when Obama did one of his first tele-town-halls as president, one of the questions that got the most votes was, "Are you going to make marijuana legal?"
JH: Yeah, I believe there were three polls on the transition team's website, and questions about marijuana topped all three of them, with millions of voters. So for the people who supported Obama, it's clearly an important issue.
CG: So do you have any chosen method by which you would like to see marijuana legalized? The proposal in California right now is to let counties legalize it* and tax it if they choose, other people would like to see it legalized statewide instantly, and other people who are more idealistic or forward looking about it, want to see it legal everywyere.
JH: My preferred choice would be for it to be a state matter, that the federal government would stay out of it.
CG: If California passes its marijuana legalization ballot initiaitve, what do you think the federal government's response will be?
JH: I have no idea.
CG: I guess we may find out though, right?
JH: I guess that's tied up with the DEA, the Department of Justice, and internal deliberations made at the White House that don't include me, so I don't know what it will be. But I know what it will be on the ground: it will encourage similar legislation in states across the country, particularly presidential battleground states.
I think one of the most interesting aspects, in fact, is that the former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, has been dipping his toe in the 2012 candidate pool, and he's a big legalization guy. So, if you put it on the ballot in those states, you create a situation where the candidates have to [win the support of] the young voters that you turn out. It's the anti-gay-marriage from that standpoint. Gay marriage was there to divide the electorate, whereas marijuana has the potential, if you turn out the people who support it, to create a situation where candidates who want the loyalty of those voters have to support it too.
CG: Do you see any potential alliance with libertarians, Tea Partiers, or Ron Paul types?
JH: I prefer to think that we support the issue and we welcome anybody who supports it. Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, as you probably know, has chapters across the country, many of which are libertarian and many of which are progressive, and people work together all the time. On our board, we have both libertarians and progressives.
*Prop. 19 would legalize possession of marijuana statewide; states could legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of marijuana if they chose to do so.
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