America is polarized. Whether it is guns, abortion, the environment, energy, or healthcare, it seems as if there is a partisan divide over just about everything these days. So it can be terribly refreshing whenever there can be common ground identified by which normally opposing viewpoints can unify, even if only temporarily.
Such is the case with cannabis reform. Many in the reform movement have long wondered why more traditional conservatives have not taken up the cause of pot reform because it seems to align nicely with many of the values and ideals that have been historically paramount for the conservative movement.
One would think that anyone serious about limited government, state’s rights, sound fiscal policy, and individual liberty would be supportive of cannabis legalization. However, for the longest time, cannabis reform has been, more often than not, an issue taken up by liberal democrats. The hope and the change that pot activists have been embracing has, until recently, not been a cause that many card carrying conservatives were willing to publicly support.
I can think of a few times I have sat across the desk of a Republican legislator who has told me that they agree that our pot laws should be changed, but the political atmosphere had not yet become tolerable of such a position. “There is this thing called re-election”, I have been told.
After all, pot legalization is supposed to be a cause championed by dreadlocked hippies, Rastafarians, and record winning Olympians. And it is not like there have not been many ardent Democrats who have been drinking from the Reefer Madness punch bowl. Our own Democratic Lt. Governor, Brad Owen, has been a fierce anti-pot crusader for as long as I can recall. This stuff can be complicated.
Back in 1996 we took a year off from producing Hempfest. We decided instead to produce the first ever statewide Hemp Voter’s Guide. We polled every legislator in Washington state asking them if they supported medical marijuana, domestic industrial hemp production, and/or legal recreational use. The vast majority of lawmakers did not even bother respond to our inquiries. There were about 5 or 6 Democrats that did respond, with only a few of them even willing to openly support legal domestic hemp production.
Well, that was then and this is now. The winds of change bring a distinct aroma these days, and it is not the smell of the DEA burning a pot field nearby.
This is what democracy smells like.
After many, many years of swimming against the stream the water has shifted for us mota activistas, and this appears to be our time. In an election year where Republicans enjoyed a veritable landslide of victories pot reform advanced as if it were another tenet of the Republican platform.
Now, anyone who has been alive long enough may recall that republican Icons such as William F. Buckley, George Schultz, and Milton Friedman were staunchly anti-prohibition. In fact, the same year that we were polling Washington lawmakers Buckley penned a very cogent argument for legalization in the National Review. The Right Wing publication has held that policy position for all these years.
Despite the outspoken advocacy of these luminary gurus of the Republican establishment, the rank and file of the elephant party have been predictably rabid in their condemnation of everything cannabis, including reforming prohibition.
After all, the pot leaf was one of the prevailing symbols of the 1960’s leftist counter-culture. By legitimizing the devil’s leaf one could be defacto legitimizing the entire counter-culture. And there is the idea that cannabis is the gateway drug to harder drugs, a theory that has been a favorite of the anti-pot crusaders, yet totally debunked by science.
So why is one of the nation’s most ardent prohibitionists not only a democrat, but an heir to one of the most iconic, influential Democratic families of all time? Perhaps it is Patrick Kennedy’s 2006 conviction for driving while high on Oxycontin that has him living in perpetual reefer madness, one can only wonder. He may actually believe the stuff he says about the herb, or he may be posturing to gain public favor after being dethroned by his own drug controversy. It matters little to me.
What does matter is that Kennedy is wrong about prohibition doing anything other than perpetuating youth access, the black market, and record setting jail and prison populations by Americans of color.
Prohibition has been the new Jim Crow in many regards, meting out felony convictions while incarcerating a disproportionate amount of black and brown Americans, even though there may be more whites that use ganja regularly.
Proving that conventional wisdom is fleeting at best, current events reveal a growing cadre of Republican politicians publicly proclaiming their support for changing America’s draconian pot laws. Right Wing fixtures such as Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and even Sara Palin have expressed thoughts that the status quo is not working and that prohibition may be ineffective and outdated.
Shazam! It might not be only the polar ice caps that are melting. The Devil himself might be thinking about relocating to Florida soon.
Red state Alaska just legalized, even though Democrats were more than twice as likely to vote for legalization there. And then there is the bell-weather event of Republican Speaker John Boehner allowing two votes on cannabis to “go the floor”, which can be interpreted as the political ground shifting beneath our feet in real time.
Libertarian Republican firebrand, Rand Paul, has admirably touted the racial disparity in prosecutions for cannabis for some time, and he has walked his talk by suggesting that Congress stay out of the way of Washington DC implementing the reforms that the state’s citizens recently voted to enact. Initiative 71 was voted in by a vast majority of DC voters, seven in 10, and Paul rightly thinks it should stand as law.
Paul does say he thinks that pot will make people too lazy to show up for work. Perhaps Paul should hang out at Hempfest Central some time. He might change his opinion on that.
Now Congressman Paul has been joined by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher in calling for the DC vote to be left alone. Now this is no surprise to me, because Rep Rohrbacher was a speaker at this year’s Seattle Hempfest. Yes, the Tea Party libertarian participated in Hempfest, calling for the government to stay out of people’s private lives.
After speaking from the Main Stage at Hempfest, Rohrabacher made another appearance at Hempfest’s coveted VIP Membership Party, which takes place inside of the event venue on Friday night, directly after the event closes. He gave a blistering speech about individual rights and government intrusions.
Now I am a lifelong partisan Democrat, and I lean so far to the left that my ear is almost on the ground. You can imagine my surprise as I realized I was developing a man-crush on Congressman Rohrbacher as he spoke.
We may be light-years apart on a variety of pressing issues, but as I listened to the congressman speak I really liked what I was hearing. And it was not just me. He was met with a roar of approval by nearly everyone in the huge Hemposium circus-tent. There must have been a few hundred people in attendance, and Rohrbacher was a star. Go figure.
Of course, the Republican tsunami that we just experienced could be the last great gasp of a party that is seeing its traditional base aging (as well as slowly losing its majority racial position in the United States).
It might be a good idea for the Grand Old Party to start embracing its more libertarian wing, because the Democratic establishment has been traversing out in the weeds in regard to rewarding its own base and articulating a coherent platform that stands for anything progressives hold dear at all.
Americans from every party deserve leadership that holds our inalienable rights above corporate interests and lobbyist influence. It is a national disgrace that America is the largest jailer per capita in the history of the world. We have an opportunity to right that wrong while providing our national economy and a shot in the arm in the form of a new emerging industry that has potential to take over the world.
Liberty, freedom, equality, and justice should not be partisan issues in a nation that markets itself as the last bastion of such principles.
For Republicans who feel that cannabis prohibition has been a costly and ineffective policy as well as a waste of resources, there is an organization to support. It is called Republicans against Marijuana Prohibition. http://www.rampgop.org/
Also posted at Seattlepi.com