That's right -- out of 50 governors and 100 U.S. senators, not a single one has announced support for full legalization, even in Colorado and Washington, which have already passed laws legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has repeatedly said he respects the will of his state's voters, who approved Amendment 64 by a 10-point margin in 2012. But he's also maintained that he "hates" the "experiment" and believes it will ultimately be detrimental to Colorado. In Washington, which will begin legal marijuana sales later this spring, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) told The New York Times that while he understands some of the reasons for ending marijuana prohibition, he has concerns about the law's possible effects on children. Nationwide, only Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said he's willing to discuss the prospect of legalizing pot, though Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) did tell HuffPost Live that the potential revenue stream was "enticing" and that he wouldn't rule out the idea.
Since the passage of legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, senators from those states and others have gotten behind efforts to help transition marijuana into a well-regulated, legitimate industry, but none have come out in support of legalization itself. Other lawmakers have emerged as relatively progressive on the broader issue of pot policy, but while many high-profile politicians across the nation have made pushes to increase access to medical marijuana or to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the substance -- still federally classified as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD -- nobody has been willing to go so far as to endorse legalization. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) perhaps came closest earlier this year when she said that she supported "what Washington State voters have done" with regards to legalizing marijuana, though she herself voted against the measure.
And it's not like they haven't had the opportunity to do so. Seventeen states have introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, according to the Times. While these bills have not gained widespread favor among state lawmakers, not a single senator or governor has backed the efforts, with most either opposing or opting to remain entirely silent on the issue. At the national level, legalization legislation offered in the House similarly failed to move any senators to be more aggressive on the issue.
As Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Times, prominent politicians likely still feel vulnerable to charges from the right of being soft on drugs and crime. This line of attack has been popular since the beginning of the war on drugs, and anti-pot groups told the Times that risk-averse politicians were right to fear a potential backlash for supporting legalization. But as Tony Newman, also of the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post, the refusal to support legalization actually appears increasingly unwise for lawmakers looking to expand their national profile:
Being "soft on drugs" is an outdated concern. Can anyone name a politician in recent years who was hurt politically because they supported commonsense drug policy reform? I can't think of any ... The growing momentum for marijuana legalization is often compared to the sea change of support for marriage equality. Support for both have taken off on similar trajectories. It has become clear to Democrats that supporting marriage equality is not only the right thing morally, but the right thing career-wise. This wasn't always the case. Just a few years ago President Obama, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and others were much more cautious.
California's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) believes that now is not the time for "caution" when it comes to marijuana legalization. While California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has argued that legalization would be a bad idea, Newsom distanced himself from Brown on the issue last month, saying legal weed was necessary and characterizing the war on drugs as "a trillion dollars wasted."
Legalization is not only a cause among Democrats. While many Republicans remain resistant to the idea of more lenient marijuana laws, some in the GOP have begun expressing skepticism of the traditional enforcement-heavy policies that contribute to approximately 650,000 arrests each year for marijuana possession. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has suggested that he'd support a path toward state decriminalization, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, though an opponent of marijuana in most forms, recently said he would consider approving edible medical marijuana for adults. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has also repeatedly touted a softer-on-drugs approach, particularly toward pot, as he prepares for a potential 2016 presidential run.
Although most national politicians are reluctant to speak in favor of legalization, an overwhelming majority of Americans now see it as inevitable. A recent poll found that 75 percent of respondents believe the sale and use of recreational weed will eventually will be legal nationwide. In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) put that window at less than five years.
For the most part, Americans are ready to see it happen. In the past year, polls have shown support for legalization reaching record levels: 54 percent now back legal weed, according to a recent Pew survey. And in Colorado, legalization has only gotten more popular after the first few months of taxed and regulated pot sales, which topped $14 million in January alone.