Jane Hamsher Gets Into the Marijuana Legalization Game

Jane Hamsher, the online progressive maven who heads the influential blog Firedoglake and its accompanying activist/political arm, Firedoglake (FDL) Action, is entering new territory today: she's getting into the marijuana legalization game.

As of this afternoon, a new coalition will officially be pushing for marijuana legalization across the country; it will consist of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and FDL Action, along with sundry allies (of both liberal and conservative alignments) who have previously spoken out in favor of legalization.

But Hamsher is the new entrant, and she's launching a $500,000 (according to her estimate) coordinated campaign to support marijuana legalization on the whole and to influence a handful of propositions on ballots this November--California's Prop. 19, which would allow counties to legalize and tax marijuana within certain guidelines plus medical marijuana initiatives in Colorado, Arizona, and South Dakota.

[UPDATE: See this interview with Hamsher for what she has to say about the new initiative, how the law should treat marijuana, and how she got involved.]

The focus will be online and campus organizing, supplying a boost to SSDP's wide campus outreach, and that mission is significant for this reason: marijuana legalizers have an enthusiastic support base at their disposal, one that's particularly engaged online. (When the public submitted questions online for President Obama's first YouTube tele-town-hall as president in March of last year, questions about marijuana ranked at the top of the "green jobs," "financial stability," "jobs," "budget,"--and almost the "health care"--categories at WhiteHouse.gov. Obama laughed off the legalization question during the webcast event.) But they haven't, as of yet, had any centralized organizing hub on the web, other than the homepages of NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Drug Policy Alliance. In that regard, the new mission seeks to fill a void.

Marijuana legalization has also yet to be embraced by the progressive online/netroots community, of which Hamsher is one of the most prominent figures. As a policy issue, it's lived in the province of libertarians, assorted liberals, and young voters, but not of the progressive establishment, either in its more staid cadre of unions and interest groups or its relatively newfangled pantheon of liberal blogs.

The new website Hamsher is launching, JustSayNow.com (or, as it appears in browsers, firedoglake.com/justsaynow) supplies online organizing and donation tools in the style of modern campaign and activist websites. The goal is to take Firedoglake's online activism reach and put it to use for the legalization of pot, and the site applies some web tools--donation, phone banking, letters to the editor--used on sites like My.BarackObama.com.

The new campaign begins at what could be a critical point for marijuana legalizers. After a Field poll showed 56% support for legalization in California in April 2009, and after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger subsequently commented that legalization merits serious discussion, the prospect of legalizing marijuana has gained currency in the media, and on the whole it hasn't seemed as far fetched as it did, perhaps, only a couple years ago. The Prop. 19 campaign in California appears to have a realistic chance of succeeding (though a more recent Field poll showed it trailing 48% to 44%, with few undecided). The California NAACP endorsed the measure, and the DC-based progressive group America Votes has studied the effect of marijuana propositions on Democratic turnout. The Service Employees International Union, meanwhile, considered pushing a marijuana initiative onto the ballot in Washington State, but eventually didn't. (See a recent story by Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post.)

(At The Atlantic, Joshua Green has been steadily exploring whether pot initiatives can influence liberal turnout in the same way Karl-Rove-engineered gay-marriage bans, in theory, boosted conservative turnout during the Bush years. Some powerful groups, it seems, have been wondering the same thing.)

Legalizers appear to be gaining momentum as they've accrued mainstream legitimacy over the past year and a half, and the Firedoglake/Students for a Sensible Drug Policy initiative will aim to become a new, and potentially quite significant, arm of the movement as it moves forward toward its ultimate goal of making marijuana legal, and legally available, and tries both to make inroads with new political communities on both the left and right and to turn out votes from current supporters more effectively.