It might not be an ideal situation, but I believe there is very little a presidential candidate could do that would be more effective at attracting new voters than to come out for relaxing our marijuana laws. The easiest and most sensible way to do that is to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III or Schedule IV drug. Scientific studies, the American Medical Association, and even Nancy Pelosi have all recommended that the government acknowledge that smoked marijuana can have health benefits and should not be classified as a Schedule I drug.

I don’t want to get into the debate about health benefits or the social consequences; I just want to talk about the politics. I think we’ve gone beyond the tipping point to where it is a political winner to be against our current marijuana laws. There are tons of young voters (including most young people who don’t use it) who cannot comprehend why recreational marijuana use is considered a major crime by the federal government. And they will be motivated to vote for a candidate who is willing to stop treating pot smokers as criminals. I think Ron Paul’s popularity with young voters is mostly explained by his libertarian attitude toward marijuana.

It’s nice to see the Obama administration say that they want to explore the medical uses of marijuana, and I have hope that they’ll go much further in a second term when they don’t have to worry about reelection. But the time to make an announcement is now, when they’ll derive a political benefit from it. In fact, it would even reverse some damage that has resulted from the Justice Department’s aggressive crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries. The crackdown is worthy of its own diary because it’s more complicated than it appears at first sight, but it has disenchanted a lot of potential Obama supporters. That harm can be undone very quickly and easily.

The Obama administration should signal that they are looking seriously at rescheduling marijuana as a Class III or IV drug, and they should do it soon.

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