One cardinal rule of punditry is don’t dwell on your wrong calls. So you backed a war that didn’t work out? Pretend all right-thinking people were against it from the get-go and only Those Idiots in Office, from the other party, or from another wing of your party, thought otherwise. Say you said Kerry, McCain, Romney or Coakley would win? So what? Continue blithely passing off your covert cheerleading as serious horserace analysis.
Permit me to shatter that ass-covering rule. Just over a year ago, Splice Today ran a column by me about the ballot Initiative 502, which would legalize pot in my own Washington state. I said it wouldn’t pass. It did. I predicted pot smokers wouldn’t turn out for it. They did. I implied a high Republican vote would help drive a nail into its coffin. It didn’t. Yet I couldn’t be happier with the blackbird banquet set before me.
The source of my appetite is a happy historical accident. Last week marked the end of two prohibitions, or the beginning of the end at any rate. On December 5, 80 years ago, the state of Utah voted to end alcohol Prohibition by ratifying the 21st Amendment. Every year on that night, I go to a bar, order a drink and propose a toast: “To Mormons!” After I explain it to my fellow, presumably non-Mormon, boozehounds, they join in.
The next day of this year, December 6, was another landmark. Possession and private use of marijuana by adults 21 years or older finally enjoyed the sanction of Washington state law. The federal government is still mulling the problem, but has promised not to prosecute for now. The Department of Justice’s concession likely represents a telegraphed federal throwing-in-of-the-towel on the war on weed.
Figuring out how to celebrate this victory against Prohibition is going to be hard, for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not a pothead, so just toking up is out. Second, the coalition that brought us legalization is complicated. The best contrarian bet would be, “To Republicans.” In Washington’s 2012 statewide contest, GOP gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Rob McKenna almost won. He netted 48.5 percent of the vote to former congressmen Jay Inslee’s 51.5 percent.
Initiative 502 passed more easily, winning 55.7 percent of the ballots. You might conclude that showing means some of McKenna’s Republican supporters voted for it. In fact, they were vital to its passage, and you’re probably looking at this the wrong way. McKenna, without making a big deal out of it, had endorsed the ballot initiative. Democrat Inslee had encouraged a no vote.
Four years before, the coalition that elected Barack Obama also doomed a pot legalization plebiscite in California. It wouldn’t have been at all difficult to take McKenna’s base vote and build it to an absolute anti-pot majority. This didn’t happen, because the Republican had no interest in diabolizing dope fiends. That an attorney general, a Republican, was okay with legal marijuana had a mellowing effect. His support calmed voters enough to take the plunge for pot, pulverizing my cynical crystal ball. Unexpected, selfless sanity makes crow so much easier to get down.