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It's Earth Day -- go green, legalize marijuana

April 22, 2009 | 10:06 am

Marijuana Plants

It's Earth Day in Washington and, all about, politicians are scurrying to offer their tributes to the environment. Call it Earth Pander.

On Capitol Hill, the Congressional High Tech caucus is hosting a briefing -- led by California Democrat Anna Eshoo and Texas Republican Mike McCaul -- on smart grid technology. The upshot: a new, intelligent grid could drastically increase the efficiency of the nation's electricity infrastructure.

Plus, several committees are hosting climate change hearings on both sides of the Capitol. And lots of Cabinet officials -- from Transportation, Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency -- are testifying.

At the White House, the Big Three automakers brought their new energy-efficient cars to the North Lawn in what the Obama administration billed as a "green" vehicle market research day. Actually, the event was delayed for two hours because of rainy weather, prompting the Associated Press to quip that the cars might be fuel efficient but they're not apparently waterproof.

Usually when executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler visit Washington, they are treated to lots of outrage from suddenly populist members of Congress who claim to be protecting the public purse. To be sure, Chrysler and GM are meeting inside the West Wing with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers on the terms of their TARP loans. But at least on the lawn, they were welcomed as heroes -- or at least innovators.

For his part, President Obama  is in Iowa today, addressing workers about his energy plan at a "green" plant in Newton, Trinity Structural Towers, a former Maytag plant that now houses a manufacturing facility producing towers for wind-energy production.

But perhaps the most unusual Earth Day comment came from the Marijuana Policy Project, which told that a disparate array of politicians -- from Texas Republican and Libertarian darling Ron Paul  to California Democratic Latino rock star Loretta Sanchez -- are now talking about legalizing marijuana, in part because of growing concern about the recent drug-inspired violence at the U.S.-Mexico border.

We are seeing a massive explosion of interest in this issue, very rapidly, across many different fronts,” said Aaron Houston, the director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s definitely been difficult to keep up. ... We’ve been bolstering our staff."

In his first nationwide e-town hall meeting, Obama got more questions about legalizing marijuana than about anything else, a product of a healthy lobbying campaign by the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML).  The president brushed off the question.

"There was one question that voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation," he said. "And I don't know what this says about the online audience, but ... this was a popular question. We want to make sure it's answered. The answer is no, I don't think that's a good strategy to grow our economy. All right."

But legalization advocates insist his non-answer answer drew a flurry of public interest. "It’s a bittersweet thing when the president dabbles in your subject matter,” said NORML's executive director, Allen F. St. Pierre. Noting that he'd been at NORML since George H.W. Bush's administration, he added,  “I’ve been here long enough that, had President Bush been in that same situation, in a hand-picked audience, they would have hissed in 1991. So this is all moving largely in a very positive direction.”

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Associated Press