91 Comments

This sort of hits on something I talk about a fair amount with my politically minded friends. Democrats have terrible brand strategy in general and often, the things they think are their strengths are actually serious vulnerabilities. It would be a good idea for the democrats to advocate for something that is broadly popular and at the same time get to use words people like, such as “freedom” instead of “control”.

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message discipline + run on popular stuff is both wise and an ongoing theme of this substack/matt's tweets.

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They are. Terrible. It’s like “defund the police” yes, I know it wasn’t official Dem policy... but they got stuck with it.

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Yeah. Republicans get made fun of all the time for their bald eagle loving, gun toting, apple pie eating, Sunday/Wednesday church going performative patriotism. But you know what? For a lot of people it’s not an act and for the rest, it makes a compelling argument for the fact “those people” have their stuff together. In my opinion, the left has accomplished a lot of great things and has some rock solid values but it isn’t demonstrated in a broadly appealing way.

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They lost their way. Hollywood wokeness has replaced working class pro union/up minimum wage as the “main” branding.

I think Biden has a good shot to rebrand though.

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Hollywood is a great example. It is a mostly blue collar place with working stiffs supporting a very few privileged and wealthy people. Artists tend to be liberal anyway though so they will usually be overrepresented in performance media.

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My cousin is a union grip in Hollywood.

Basically the whole working crew are conservative... the creative types are liberal.

I love his stories about which actors/actresses are dicks. Which are cool.

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Yep. This is an extremely key point. Thinking about writing about this in the future

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Something that drove me (and other volunteers) absolutely bananas during this year's campaign:

I was textbanking with an organization that had partnered with the North Carolina Democrats to flip state legislative seats, and we talked to SO. MANY. VOTERS. whose first question was "Does she support legal weed?" Not a single one of the statehouse candidates we texted for was on record for legalization, so we had to go to the default response: "I don't have her position on that issue at my fingertips, but I'll let the campaign know about your concerns." Absolutely an unforced error.

One more point that might be useful for some SB subscribers: legal marijuana is among the few issues where progressives can contribute to social progress in deep-red states. Check out this amazing Politico piece on Oklahoma, whose medical-marijuana regime is so liberal that it's a recreational-marijuana state for all practical purposes--and where the market isn't hopelessly overregulated, as it is in some blue states:

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/11/27/toke-lahoma-cannabis-market-oklahoma-red-state-weed-legalization-437782

So if I were one of the twenty-three progressive Democrats who live in Idaho (or wherever) I think I might spend some time partnering with conservatives and libertarians to reform the state's pot laws. You'd want to focus on ballot initiatives rather than lobbying, which is how the progress in Oklahoma was achieved.

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All the people who say we don’t have to compromise because we can turn out more people are correct if legal drugs are on the ballot. I suspect the money class of the Democratic Party is less excited about this than voters are

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The fact that New York Dems got a trifecta in 2018 and still haven't legalized tells you just how much infighting over the details (money) can derail this. It's infuriating.

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In NYS, it's allll about controlling the money flows. Not just the taxation but who gets the finite number of each type of license, and how to make sure the "right people" get them. How to craft a media message about disadvantaged groups while also making sure party loyalists are getting their cut of the action.

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I was really struck by your comments recently on Twitter on how it's counterproductive that progressives have started framing broadly popular policy positions (minimum wage increase, student loan forgiveness) as racial justice issues. Wondering if you think this applies here as well? I'm personally kind of apathetic to the issue of marijuana legalization, but do think the racial disparities argument is the most convincing case for it, and could drive some of the "greater passion" that you describe as being needed in this piece. But I'm trying to think outside the educated-progressive-groupthink-bubble, so questioning if this is indeed the case.

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I think this ties back to the post on politicians doing ads with guns. Go with whatever message works locally. Legalization is broadly popular, so tether it to some other locally popular stuff.

Racial justice is a great reason to legalize but might not play as well in a predominantly white, rural red state. Then say it's a matter of civil liberties, personal freedom etc. That's also true on the merits and might be an easier sell. Majority of people are fine with legal weed and I suspect are just looking for any message that acts as some combo of familiar entry point and permission structure.

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"framing broadly popular policy positions (minimum wage increase, student loan forgiveness) as racial justice issues"

They're economic issues, so you might as well frame them as racial issues because honestly framing them as economic issues forces one to confront that, 1) public ignorance of economics is both broad and deep, and, 2) if #1 were otherwise these policy positions would not be popular.

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The libertarian in me agrees.

The father in me doesn’t.

10-years ago I was pretty pro-legalize, but I’ve since come to believe that marijuana is dangerous in a much more insidious way. It robs many people of motivation, and more and more I’ve seen it become a crutch. People smoking every day.

I have had two kids who have had their life affected by marijuana use.

Having said all that, keeping it illegal is pretty dumb considering how widespread it is.

I’d like to see it legalized and have the THC regulated. When I tried weed after I retired from the Military, I was knocked on my ass.

My friends and I would smoke occasionally in HS in the 80s, but it would take a few joints. Now days, a few hits will fuck you up.

Personally, I don’t enjoy it. Then again I barely drink anymore. I’d much rather spend my time doing shit. Working on my 65 Chevy C20. 4-wheeling. Doing stuff around the house. Man... I should be a boomer.

It is weird that Idaho makes it illegal. The drive-through dispensaries across the border are full of Idaho License plates.

Making it legal would put my step-daughters dealing boyfriend out of a job though, and I don’t like the guy.

Not getting on the legalize train was a great fuck-up by Trump.

He could of gone full in and probably won the election despite being an idiot.

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As a new dad I’m pretty sympathetic to this viewpoint. It was much easier to be “pro” lots of things before I had a child to worry about. Also agree on the THC level issue. I occasionally use a very low THC/ high CBD edible. I never smoke anymore. I get frustrated when I go the dispensary and they immediately try to sell me on something they will “send me to space”. Having a beer/wine/liquor system would be great.

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Wait until your kid/kids are teenagers. And even if your kids are good... you will see how many other kids abuse it.

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Addiction is a serious problem in my family so I am very familiar with all the disaster scenarios. The best thing we can do is make sure our loved ones have all the information, support and love they need to make the right choices. The rest seems to be in gods hands. It's crazy to see the people that turn out fine and the ones that end their lives in a terminal addiction, rhyme and reason seem to have little place there. Personal observation anyway.

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You start out... my kids will be astronauts.

You end up with, hey... they aren’t in jail and have a job.

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It's true that there will be kids that use it, and I am concerned about that. We have begun telling our kids about cannabis, what it is, why young people shouldn't use it, etc. In the states that have legalized recreational, there hasn't been an increase in kids using it (decreases in some places) so that alleviates some of the concern. Due to contemporary parenting and other phenomena, kids in general are engaging in less risky behavior around drugs, alcohol, and sex.

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I was reading about that. I thought the youth useage rates were mixed. Same in Colorado, increased in Washington.

I would like to see more and longer term studies. Especially disaggregated by income, race, etc... before I make up my mind.

But yeah... kids are more boring these days compared to the 80s.

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Time will tell. I also wonder how many kids, or heavy users, will be using cannabis instead of alcohol or opioids. In the interest of overall harm reduction, I'd rather have someone stoned at home eating pizza and playing video games than getting in drunken fights, drunk driving, or overdosing.

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I think marijuana has a great chance of replacing pain pills. Oxy and stuff.

Long term effects will have to be seen. Regardless, I’m more on the side of liberty and freedom. Same way I don’t want to ban alcohol, and I’m pro-gun rights to a degree.

We can’t legislate perfect outcomes.

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Trump legalized CBD! I was always amazed he never chose to mention this, seemingly ever. Seemed like he should've been saying it nonstop.

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I am also interested in this from the standpoint of a parent of teenagers. I've seen the statistics-based claim that kids these days engage in less risky behavior. But I was really shocked at how prevalent nicotine and marijuana use seems to be in high school today. Was I just really sheltered when I was in high school 30 years ago? Or are my teenagers' friends unusually edgy?

Nicotine is interesting, because I've seen other statistics-based claims that teen nicotine use is way up recently, thanks to Juul and the like -- that matches what I see. And based on how my teenagers talk about it, kids just don't see that big a distinction between vaping/smoking nicotine and vaping/smoking marijuana.

Maybe this is all fine? And certainly prohibition was/is a fiasco.

But as a parent, I find it upsetting that culturally, collectively, we really seem to have settled on basically normalizing teenage use of nicotine, marijuana, and also alcohol. Schools and police set up the most minor of obstacles, but teenagers clearly have no trouble buying products from "21 and up" smoke shops, so enforcement is really lax, and the general cultural message about teenage use of these substances seems to be "eh the kids are fine, let's mostly turn a blind eye". (Obviously there are some countervailing messages like the OMG EVERYONE USES JUUL stories that peppered the internet not long ago -- but those messages seem much weaker in aggregate.)

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I'd say you were sheltered if you thought that this wasn't happening 30 years ago,

https://www.statista.com/statistics/208462/availability-of-marijuana-as-perceived-by-us-12th-graders-since-1975/

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I graduated high school in 2018. It is unbelievably common in high school and college. The normalization of nicotine (when I was in middle school, no high schoolers smoked cigarettes) in the last 5ish years has been really really bad for teens

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Yes. I have a 21-year-old and a 19-year-old that both vape.

It is super common.

It’s not a hill I would die on though.

Especially since I started smoking when I was 16. Battled that all my life.

Everything is relative I guess

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I have been very upset with the state of CT not moving quickly on legalizing recreational marijuana. It is hugely popular, and the state desperately needs new tax revenue. Imagine the lines at dispensaries with people from NY taking the Metro North to Stamford and spending a couple hundred bucks each!

Now NJ will likely beat us to the punch, and CT will follow a year or two later and lose the first-mover advantage.

The new gov (Ned Lamont) has not given a clear rationale for not moving on this. I think people over 45 or so just have this "War on Drugs" hangover and see cannabis as distasteful or worse than it is.

Another interesting angle that gets to Matt's earlier point about needlessly racializing popular issues: in NJ and other states there has been some holdup over arguments about whether communities harmed by drug laws should get special dispensation on licenses, tax revenue etc. This is another issue where Black people are disproportionately harmed but whites get swept up in bogus cannabis charges as well. I have known White people lose jobs, have records, etc due to cannabis. Legalization would broadly help everyone

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Very happy that my state (New Jersey) decided to legalize this year. We're long overdue. This is a serious first-mover advantage, maybe one of the best in the country. New Jersey is densely populated, and is easily accessible from New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland. We will be lapping up tax revenue from a fair amount of short-term tourism. The Dems in those states will realize the tax implications, and the fact that any public health concerns are undermined by New Jersey being an available option with decriminalized states surrounding it (other than Pennsylvania). Therefore, for non-PA states, there is no recourse for small amounts coming over the state line.

I don't often think of New Jersey as the most effective state government, but this was an incredibly obvious prize for any state in the region. We have a net migration problem in this part of the country. It was nice to see an improvement that makes the area more attractive (to me, at least) and improves our options for tax revenue, which may have some near-term headwinds... massive suburban push out of NYC, notwithstanding.

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New Jersey also legalized sports betting and suddenly saw a flurry of people taking the PATH train to Jersey City to bet on the Giants.

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While "think of the tax revenue!" is a great way of getting fence sitters onboard with legalization, I don't think anyone should be excited for it in the ways that "first-mover advantage" implies.

While legalization is necessary on libertarian and anti-incarceration grounds, weed just becomes another big vice business preying on addicts in the same way that alcohol, cigarettes and gambling are. You don't want your state making policy around it on revenue grounds.

Tax it to keep usage down and capture some of the windfall that otherwise gets ceded to the purveyors, but don't genuinely think of it as a revenue opportunity.

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Opening up a legal market for something that has a masssive black market inherently has positive tax revenue implications. Reducing incarcerations is a moral good and good for taxpayers.

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Tonally & by degree, I get what you are saying. This is not the silver bullet that will save state budgets in the Northeast. But, since it's positive in its own right, it's a no brainer. The first state to do it has an advantage. That advantage may be $100M (not a big deal), but it's $100M the other states will not collect for absolutely no reason except that their states ignored the opportunity. Also, we have very few positive state politics stories around here. It's nice to pocket a win. Still, there are bigger revenue fish to fry, and I concede that.

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Agree with Trevor here. Although a small percentage do get addicted to cannabis, the vast majority of people will use it occasionally without major adverse effects on their life. Gambling is similar. Cigarettes and alcohol are worse than cannabis in my opinion and should receive the highest taxes to discourage use. l I mentioned this in another comment, but in the interest of harm reduction I'd rather have people overusing cannabis than addicted to alcohol or opioids (I'm assuming there is a replacement factor between these three drugs but don't know for sure).

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I’m not so sure.

Yes it would help with some racial disparities with enforcement, but I’m not sure it will make a huge difference.

Also... does legalizing increase marijuana use? By who? What are the externality effects?

I’m not saying that this is true... but could legalized marijuana end up making marijuana proportionally more popular in black community? Would this result in less success, harder to close gaps? I don’t think this will be the scenario, but it’s always good to look at possible unintended consequences.

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I think I see the problem. What you need are legalization activists who don't actually use marijuana.

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Is this the same as gun control advocates that don’t have guns?

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No. Users are too relaxed and distracted by the munchies.

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I know. I was joking. Lol.

Combined weed with video games and internet porn. I’m surprised anyone ever even leaves their house... let alone votes.

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I know we’re joking here, but I will say that, at least where I am in the San Francisco area, the stoners who play a lot of video games and watch a lot of porn are also the most politically engaged people I know.

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Sorry. I was joking too.

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> Gallup’s numbers show that 15 or 20 years ago when folks like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer were already important politicians this was a pretty marginal cause. And the marginalness of marijuana legalization is doubled by the fact that the people most likely to support it (young people and people who get high a lot) are low propensity voters.

I agree with this but also find it to be rather bleak. The only potentially successful progressive strategy is cohort replacement. Yikes.

Either way, the "no weed" cohort is being replaced and NJ can attest to how much money you can raise on a popular measure like legal weed. https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-new-jersey-recreational-marijuana-marijuana-elections-3ee4af1fa5317120924aea371ed57234 and https://www.nj.com/marijuana/2020/10/groups-raise-21-million-to-sway-your-vote-on-nj-legal-weed-ballot-question.html

What are currently the most effective activists groups on this issue? Want to vote with some dollars here.

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NORML is a pretty good org, https://norml.org/

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NORML, LEAP, and Marijuana Policy Projecet are all good orgs who have been doing the work for some time.

https://www.mpp.org/

https://lawenforcementactionpartnership.org/our-issues/drug-policy/

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Thanks will def look into it. 💸

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I feel like this whole post is about how cohort replacement ISN’T the only potentially successful progressive strategy. The Dianne Feinstein case of being pressured from the left until she changed her position on it seems pretty instructive.

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Once a policy area became popular she could be pressured. Pressure wouldn’t have worked 20 years ago because it was a marginal issue.

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Exactly. But the popularity growth is too much to be explained by cohort replacement. People’s minds are being changed on this issue, just like with gay marriage (as Matt points out). So persuasion and political pressure still work.

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I’m reading this not as persuasion and pressure free process, but that cohort replacement unlocks the credible primary threat that makes pressure possible. Without the credible primary threat fringe issues stay fringe. Once kickstarted, however, the policy in question can gain wider acceptance. This cycle is something that would certainly seem easier to get going at the state level. None of that seems in conflict with the post.

why-not-both.gif

My comment and working theory of the process was more about sequencing

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Those low propensity young, high voters are now in their late 30s and are more politically engaged

*looks in mirror*

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What are your thoughts on how third-parties focused on marijuana legalization factor into this? For example, in MN, Democrats fell short of a trifecta in part because of strong performance by the two legal marijuana parties that got on the ballot in key state Senate districts, and they also broke 5% in the Senate race. Do you think that's a reason for more outside of elections activism around the issue or for less?

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This seems like a big reason to pressure local Dems to adopt these positions! They're literally losing votes and seats for it!

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I agree, except many of the Democrats in those races did support legal marijuana! So clearly it takes more than just supporting the position.

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Minnesota is an interesting example. Walz had a very progressive stance on weed when he ran for governor, but he didn't emphasize it much, presumably to support his moderate bona fides? Then the two weed-based third parties reached major party status, which makes it much easier for Republicans to recruit/finance spoiler candidates in tight races.

In this situation, I'm not sure how activist energy should best be used. Do you encourage the DFL to spotlight/emphasize/run on their (already very good) weed policy? That seems like good politics to me, but it's hard to see it changing the policies on the ground, where republicans hold the state senate. Do activists try to get moderate republican senators to flip on this issue? I'm sure there are republican held districts where this policy is popular, but I don't really see republicans doing the right thing just because activists are yelling at them. If they break on this issue and legalization happens, they probably won't be able to benefit from spoiler candidates on this issue anymore.

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I liked it when Bernie tried to use banks as the thin end of the wedge & said things like "the business model of Wall Street is fraud." Warren often took a similar line although neither of them focused on it in the most recent election. Finance people are very unpopular for good reason and Democrats should certainly demonize them as much as gun owners or the NRA.

Bank bashing & white collar crime enforcement seem like a good, popular areas for "left" Dems to differentiate themselves nationally from centrists, although they need good, specific regulatory & enforcement policies to back up their stance. I take your point that anti-plutocrat rhetoric from lefty congresspeople often leads to personnel fights w/o clear policy stakes.

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Good enough column, and I'd be pretty happy if weed were legalized (and I think it ties back into the "make blue states great again" idea that the Dems in blue states should be bolder) but tbh I was looking forward to a column about climate activism and why stuff like Sunrise are dumb and bad and how to actually get climate stuff passed.

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I know this post mentions that the technical details are well understood, but I do think there's still some tension between legalization as harm reduction and legalization as a revenue source. Exploring that tension could be important when crafting local messages. Personally, I am very pro-legalization but I still think it's gross that stores will send "We Miss You!" sales pitches to people who are trying to quit. Of course, this is certainly not unique to pot.

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This is a good take to me. I'm from California and I know friends who spent much of high school in a marijuana-induced daze. I think legalizing it does reduce harm (especially crime-wise), but it also does do harm to others

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So, given the recent twitter-fight, this article is as much about how shouty activism is good for weed as it's about how shouty activism, in contrast, is bad for climate change. And I think, if you boil it down, the difference between the two issues is polarization. Weed's popular among both sides of the aisle; believing that climate change is real is only popular on one.

But there's a root cause for this! It's that there is a sustained misinformation campaign going on about the climate. So, maybe I could be convinced that telling the Sunrise Movement to shut up is a good idea. (That's a reductive way of putting Matt's argument, I know, but I gotta go fast!) But, I would want to offer the shouty activists something in exchange. And what I would offer in exchange is a real plan for using the powers of the FTC/SEC/Every other C to hold oil firms and others accountable for spreading misinformation. Now, others may raise First Amendment concerns over this tactic. But just as there is no 1st amendment right to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater, there is no right to yell "Fires Aren't Real" in a burning theater either.

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That isn't the problem. The problem is that Big Oil keeps spreading information. and people don't like that either.

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I'm not trying to be dense here, Peter G, but are you saying that the reason climate is a polarized issue is because of the accurate information that Big Oil keeps spreading?

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They don't have to spread it. Most people know there aren't any electric powered farm tractors or transport trucks or aircraft. They know how their homes are heated. They know what things are made of. They know what they put in their gas tanks to get to work and for every other purpose. And you might recall that at one point Obama's re-election was imperiled by rising gas prices. And that applies to everyday people. Technically competent people on the other hand are firmly convinced these activists are ignorant loonies.

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You're proposing making it illegal to say "climate change isn't real"? I think this would not be good for freedom of speech as a value in America. Would saying anything heterodox about science be made illegal?

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There are plenty of restrictions on corporate speech in the realm of consumer protection laws - in alcohol, tobacco, financial services, pharmaceuticals, etc.

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Sure, but aren't these about advertising their products? As in--they can't lie that it does stuff to you that it doesn't. I don't think you could ever prevent them from say...funding silly studies

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I agree with the general point that funding studies can’t be banned, but there is a historical analogue with the tobacco industry fighting scientific consensus through funding their own studies, misleading advertising, and aggressive PR campaigns.

A brief history of government action taken:

The 1964 Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health report.

Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965.

1965 - Public Health Service established National Clearinghouse for Smoking and Health.

Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969.

United States v. Philip Morris - DOJ sued tobacco companies under RICO statute for engaging in a decades long conspiracy to mislead the public about the risks of smoking, secondhand smoke, etc. Tobacco companies were held liable by U.S. Court of Appeals. 1999-2006

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Also the Master Settlement Agreement from 1998 which required tobacco companies to pay states in perpetuity to recover Medicaid and other healthcare related expenses resulting from smoking-caused illnesses.

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The issue with marijuana to me seems to be not dissimilar to “common sense” gun control - a lot of people support the policy but very few seem motivated to vote based on it. I suppose targeted activism could change that. To be honest though, full legalization doesn’t feel like the kind of issue that’s going to inspire the fervency needed for people to take to the streets.

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I see it similar to gun control, but on the opposite side. I never understood why the Democrats never made Marijuana Legalization their version of gun rights. Marijuana advocates are very much like gun rights advocates. The issue doesn't really move the needle for most people as a high priority, but the people who are really into it are REALLY into it. That's why the GOP always acquiesce to the gun rights even when it seems to be temporarily broadly unpopular with the public, after a mass shooting, because it turns out having a monopoly on a group of highly motivated group of single issue voters who turn out every election over that one issue is a huge electoral asset over the long run.

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What evidence do you have that "people who get high a lot" are low propensity voters?

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They tend to younger and 18-25 year olds have seriously low turnout

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founding

First, I agree with this argument, and believe strongly that marijuana should be legalized for many reasons including racial justice.

You write, though, "It’s of course possible that Brett Kavanaugh and company will issue some crazy legal ruling if the Biden administration tries", presumably referring to the non-delegation principle. I would love to see that principle applied more often and more broadly, as I think it would ultimately be good for democracy.

Congress has effectively abdicated its responsibility to pass laws by ceding authority to Executive Branch agencies. This has resulted in Congress being sidelined and filled with people who see no need to actually DO anything, while further increasing the authority of one person (the President). If Congress (the one branch that is more directly accountable to the people) were not allowed to abdicate its responsibilities, then I believe they would become more effective, less partisan and more responsive to majority opinions.

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I would say that Congress is _less_ directly accountable to the people. Senate malapportionment means that popular vote counts for the legislature are even less important to actual outcomes than they are for the presidency. Winning the presidency while losing the popular vote is rare; winning the Senate while losing the popular vote is basically the default, these days.

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Montana and Alaska both have weed 100% legal for fun. that is 4 senate votes. The libertarian republican are over represented by the senate map. This issue turned Colorado from red to purple to blue in like 3 elections

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I think you underestimate Congress’s ability to abdicate its responsibilities.

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But if SCOTUS ruled this way, would Congress actually respond? There's lots of things I'd want the SC to leave alone in theory (and give to Congress), but the truth is that all of this is utopian. Congress does virtually nothing and it can be useful for the SC to let things happen from time to time or even make things happen

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