In case you're not familiar, Bill Maher ends each episode of his HBO show Real Talk with Bill Maher with new rules. These range in topic and scope -- one, from 2011, declared, "Stop asking Miss USA contestants if they believe in evolution. It's not their field. It's like asking Stephen Hawking if he believes in hair scrunchies." -- but the real meat comes from the body politic and this week Maher ended by declaring, "Pot is the new gay marriage."
"By that, I mean it's the next obvious civil rights issue that needs to fall," he says, before explaining that marijuana advocates must take a page from marriage equality activists and make Mary Jane popular. "Gays simply demanded it" he says. "They didn't care that it wasn't popular. They put it on the agenda and they made it popular."
Maher thinks the Democrats could theoretically take the lead here, but says they won't because they "operate from a place of fear," they're "unwilling to appear soft on crime, soft on terror and in Anthony Weiner's case "soft on camera." Republicans are more suited for legalizing weed because they don't chase numbers, they make the numbers move for them. "If Republicans were smart, they would steal marijuana from Democrats as a freedom issue," the host explains, before lamenting, "Of course they're not smart, so they won't, because they're squares living in a 'Reefer Madness' cartoon."
But is it necessarily true that Republicans won't support marijuana legalization? As with marriage equality, more GOP voters seem to be drifting toward a pro-pot policy. A Pew Research poll from April did show that 29% of conservative Republicans think marijuana should be legal, but it also showed that 53% of moderate-to-liberal Republicans, those more inclined to support marriage equality, believe recreational weed should be legalized. As a whole, 37% of Republicans think marijuana should be legalized. That's up from 24% in 2010. (Democrats too are split: of course a vast majority of liberal Dems support legal pot, 73%, but only 52% of conservative and moderate Democrats agree.)
That said, it is two Democrats, Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and gay Coloradan Jared Polis, who are currently leading the fight for marijuana legalization on a federal level. Polis took the reins from Barney Frank, another openly gay Congressman. Frank's ally in his fruitless fight was another retired Congressman, libertarian leader Ron Paul. Are there any Republicans brave enough to accept Maher's challenge and join a gay Democrat and a former community organizer from Oregon in challenging laws that waste millions of government dollars, lead to record levels of pricey incarceration for black men, and also keep people with chronic pain, like HIV/AIDS patients, from receiving possible relief? And, for that matter, are there any other Democrats?