Mike Miller, marijuana and the right side of history

Senate president can show his chops by pushing legalization

  • Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller speaks to the Senate on the first day of the General Assembly.
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller speaks to the Senate on the first day… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
January 09, 2014|Dan Rodricks

Turns out, I am glad that Thomas V. Mike Miller gives no hint of retiring from his position as president-forever of the Maryland Senate. I know that sounds odd coming from me, but that's how I feel today.

And I don't even smoke pot.

Miller is 71, and he's been in the legislature since '71. He's been president of the Senate so long no one can even remember the man he replaced in that position. (I'll give you a hint: It was Mickey Steinberg.)

Jaded in the jowls and white of hair, Miller is all been-there/done-that about the General Assembly, one of those guys who likes position and power, but doesn't offer much else. If he brought idealism to Annapolis, it's long gone. Miller is a conservative Democrat in a blue state, which is about as pointless as a liberal Republican in a red one.

He's an old lion who no longer cares for the hunt. He keeps the bills running on time, but that's about it.

So, seeing him back in action, with no plans for retirement from his three-month, $56,500 job, I was about to bemoan another legislative session with President Way Too Long leading the Senate when he tells reporters that he supports legalizing marijuana.

Holy smoke.

"I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions," Miller said, according to an account in the Washington Post. "I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now."

Of course, many of us are already there.

Public opinion polls have spiked in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, especially since the states of Colorado and Washington made pot legal in 2012.

Even more Americans — 70 percent to 80 percent in various surveys — think the nation's four-decades-long war on drugs has been lost, a huge waste of time and money. And the most foolish part of the war has been the enforcement of state and federal prohibitions against the cultivation, sale, distribution and possession of cannabis.

It's really only timid politicians who stand in the way of ending the nation's obsession with weed and allowing its regulated and taxable sale.

Miller showed some brass by speaking out as he did.

Of course, he said that any bill to legalize pot in Maryland has no chance this year — "Quite frankly, I don't see it passing" — and that is so typical and old-school of the guy, the Miller brand of two-bit realism. He'll tell you the score, but not really take a strong leadership role.

I mean, if President-Forever really thinks marijuana should be decriminalized in Maryland, then maybe, instead of just shooting from the lip during an interview, he ought to try and influence his fellow senators.

Still, I can't knock the guy too much.

At least he said what I'll bet 80 percent of Maryland legislators are thinking: that marijuana could be sold, just like beer or wine or cigarettes, and taxed to pay for other necessary services. (Del. Heather Mizeur, a Democratic candidate for governor, has proposed using revenue from legal marijuana sales to fund full-day, pre-kindergarten education across the state.)

In Colorado, retailers reportedly sold about $5 million worth of weed in the first week of legal recreational sales. The law took effect Jan. 1. (Colorado officially projects nearly $600 million in annual sales, both wholesale and retail, with a yield of about $67 million in taxes, according to Bloomberg News.)

In Maryland, there will be an effort this winter to legalize marijuana's recreational use; it will come from members of the legislature.

But Gov. Martin O'Malley won't be any help. Forget about it. He has to keep his tough-on-crime image intact for a presidential run — please, hold the laughter — so we won't see him rolling up his sleeves, grabbing a microphone and presenting reefer-revenue charts at legislative hearings.

The speaker of the House of Delegates, Michael E. Busch, will call for patience and prudence. (I'd call them, too, except I lost their numbers.)

So that leaves Miller to lead the charge on marijuana.

Since he's already made a tantalizing statement on the issue, I'd like to encourage him to follow through. If nothing else, it will give Miller a chance to show how wrong we've been about him — you know, that part about being an old lion who's lost his enthusiasm for the hunt.

He can prove what an admirer once said of him: "Mike Miller could get the votes to burn down the State House."

And he can fix his own self-image.

Two years ago, Miller voted against a majority of fellow senators and affirmed marriage as a thing that happens only between a man and a woman. He could not bring himself to accept same-sex marriage.

"Am I on the wrong side of history? No doubt about it," he said as the law passed over his nay.

So maybe now he's thinking he wants to be on the right side of history, and about marijuana. If so, let's go. Let's see what he's got left.


Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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