This week, the Iowa caucus marked the beginning of a once-every-four-years political spectacle that is, for better or worse, the most closely scrutinized process on the planet. The caucus is perceived to be important as a strong electoral indicator, apparently because of an alchemical blend of the caucus’s being first and Iowa somehow representing—through its high-fructose corn syrup-based economy, propensity for overalls and hearty conservative base—”real America,” a Republican Shambhala where Norman Rockwell paints the stations of the cross, everybody pulls his weight, we don’t need no welfare state, and girls were girls and men were men. It is my understanding that many “Real Americans” believe we really could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.
But really, what the Iowa caucus represents is an opportunity for the rest of the country sit in abject horror as a state about which most of us know nothing enjoys their minute in the sun and squanders the opportunity by giving Ted Cruz and Donald Trump more momentum. Meanwhile, the state’s meager handful of Democratic primary voters took the Clinton-Sanders rally to a dead heat. There was much talk of making America great again—remember the great old days when old white guys had all the power instead of just an enormous majority of it? when everybody knew his place and black people played linebacker like they were supposed to, not a white man’s position like quarterback?—of the grassroots, sighs of relief and of “courageous conservatism,” but only one candidate seemed interested in illustrating any points besides the standard “God bless America and all of my Supporters” victory fare.
“When you talk about a broken criminal justice system, here’s where you are—and this is why the American people are so angry,” began Bernie Sanders in his first post-Iowa stump speech on February 2 in Keene New Hampshire, a liberal stronghold near the Vermont border. “Some kid gets picked up in New Hampshire today for possessing marijuana, that kid will have a police record that will stay with him for his entire life. But if you are a wall street banker whose illegal behavior destroyed the lives of millions of people, nobody will prosecute you.”
This statement combines Bernie’s main campaign agenda, addressing gross and unprecedented income inequality by confronting the big banking system, with his tried-and-true liberalism toward social issues. Bernie’s pro-cannabis, but it hasn’t made as many appearances in his stump speeches as some supporters would like until now. Bernie breaking that seal in Keene is good news for cannabis advocates, but it’s also an incredibly shrewd move on Bernie’s part. By calling out his two biggest differences with Hillary Clinton in one speech just the day after a historic tie, he is acknowledging that if he’s going to beat Hillary, it’s going to be by attacking her on her most conservative issues—money in politics and cannabis prohibition.
Elsewhere in the political world, cannabis continues to assert itself as one of the defining issues of 2016, with Sen. Sanders’s home state of Vermont appearing to have the tools in place to become the first state to completely legalize via legislative action, and legalization referenda beginning the process of their introduction in several states. To that end, in January Massachusetts lawmakers sent a fact-finding mission to Colorado in order to witness the logistics of a cannabis grow firsthand. It was also recently announced that Florida will get another chance to vote on a version of 2014’s failed medical cannabis bill, this time with much more funding behind it. But not everything has been good news for legalization supporters, with Marco Rubio returning from a political grave into which he already had one foot—the other having been resting precipitously on a banana peel. The outspoken prohibitionist is by far the biggest potential hurdle for progress on cannabis, and he’s gaining ground among those “true conservatives” for whom both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump stray too far from the party line.