We’re already seeing some of the problems that arise when a state legalizes marijuana while its neighbors do not. Here’s an example.

It’s been suggested that a uniform Federal law removing penalties from cannabis use would eliminate that. So what are the chances we’ll get such a law in the near future? Not good.

We’re accustomed to polls that suggest that 55-60% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana. But that doesn’t mean 6 in 10 voters who show up on election day will support a piece of legislation to that end. When it comes to pot, the political ‘negatives’ remain very high. Few of us are undecided (a paltry 3%), while the rest are against it. To a campaign strategist, that translates to hardcore opposition that could be mobilized against a ballot measure (and more importantly, mobilized against a candidate who supported it.)

Politicians, above all, want to be elected. And re-elected. And re-elected.

In a sense, the problem is demographics. There’s a wide variation in use patterns across the 50 states. The percent of citizens who say they have ever used marijuana (even once) is highest– above 60%– in predictable places like the Northeast (Vermont and New Hampshire at 67 and 66%), the Northwest (Oregon actually slightly higher than Washington), Alaska and Montana (no surprise there). But at the other end of the spectrum are conservative Utah, at 38%, and most of the South, including Texas (in the 40’s.) New York finished just under the 60% threshold. California was at 49% (I am having trouble believing that.)

The age group where recent pot use is highest– 18 to 25 year olds– are rather unreliable voters. A pot legalization initiative would boost the turnout in an election, but quite possibly on both sides of the issue, threatening to neutralize one another. That’s bad if you happen to be running for office when the margin of victory will be quite slim, as it often is.

Worse yet from a political strategist’s point of view: The debate over marijuana is so polarized that any opposition to a candidate’s stand on the issue is likely to carry over to his or her future campaigns. Politicians prefer voters to have memories as short as their own.

My prediction is that border battles between the states where pot is legal and those where it isn’t will be with us for some time to come.