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Vivian McPeak

Republicans for Cannabis Legalization? Really?

 

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 

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Vivian McPeak

2014 Victories. The Hempire Strikes Back!*

It seems like just yesterday that I was a young cannabis activist enduring the incessant derision of naysayers who confidently insisted that cannabis (which you probably call marijuana) would always be prohibited. People told me I was “jousting at windmills”, “pissing in the wind”, that legalization was a “pipe-dream”, and that lobbying for legalization was a waste of time. They asked us why we were not working on an issue that had half a chance.

Of course, my fellow activists and I did not agree with them at all. We felt that if enough Americans learned the truth about prohibition they would react by changing the laws. We strongly knew that pot prohibition was a policy built on lies, fear, racism, and cultural bigotry.

Well, there ain’t nuthin’ like a little vindication after decades of ridicule. However, any personal satisfaction that may come with being proven at least partially right is strongly overshadowed by the awareness that millions of Americans will now live free from the threat of arrest or prosecution for minor pot offenses.

The thought of a more just, more free America is what has kept us pot activists going for so many years. We surely have not been motivated by some self-serving desire to be able to get high, because prohibition never stopped any of us from imbibing if that was what we wanted to do. Of course, prohibition has hardly kept anyone from using cannabis because it has been a dramatically failed policy all around.

Now, even in the midst of a sweeping Republican rebellion, cannabis legalization is still on the march. Alaska, Oregon, and Washingtonian D.C. now join Colorado and Washington as having seriously reformed pot laws. In 2016 ballot initiatives are expected in states such as Arizona, California, Maine and Nevada.

While Florida’s medical marijuana initiative did not win, the fact that 58% of the voters approved it means that it may have been a technical loss (60% of the vote was required) but it was still a big political victory. Any Florida politician now knows where the electorate stands on the issue.

In Oregon, it is now legal for citizens 21 and over to grow, possess, or sell cannabis. The state will now implement a commercial regulatory system similar to those of Washington and Colorado.

In Alaska, where a staggering 80 percent of all drug arrests have been for pot, cannabis production will be taxed and regulated, making it legal for those 21 and over to imbibe.

In Washington DC, where blacks comprise about half of the population but account for as much as 90% of arrests for drug possession, the future of legal pot remains hazy. DC has a unique status as a district rather than a state. Several lawmakers, all Republicans, have pledged to overrule the will of the voters and use the federal status of cannabis to block legalization, which is typical. Those politicians are still living in the old paradigm, and I believe they may be in denial of what is taking place here, which, of course, is the slow and eventual crumbling of the policy of pot prohibition.

Washington DC’s law would allow a person over 21 to possess up to two ounces for personal use and to grow up to 6 plants in their home. The fact that the Pentagon now sits on land that was the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hemp plantation brings all that much irony, eh?

So it is not only the 1% celebrating in penthouses and boardrooms across the nation. No doubt, they are giddy that they are enjoying the spoils of Citizens United and their ability to literally hijack democracy, and the ultra-rich have never been richer. They have been consolidating their wealth throughout this entire economic collapse. That is what they always do. Well, now they have even more potential to chase that precious ROI, as a new emerging market is coalescing, and legal impediments to its expansion are falling away like pot plants careening out of a DEA helicopter and back into the hands of the people who planted them.

The era of scapegoating, of dehumanizing, of persecuting otherwise law abiding, responsible, contributing Americans over their use of pot has started to end. What will be the result?

Well, let’s think about it. Violent crime has been steadily decreasing the entire time legalization has been making progress. There is a study that was co-written by professors from San Diego State, Montana State, and the University of Colorado at Denver, that concluded that the suicide rates for males aged 20-29 decreased 10.9 percent in states where cannabis is legal. Gee, it ain’t like suicide is a problem in the United States these days, right?

Then there is the study published by author Dr. Daniel I Rees, published in the University of Chicago Press, which concluded that “traffic fatalities decreased between 8 and 11 percent after legalization.” The study went on to conclude that “total beer consumption dropped five percent post-legalization and that traffic fatalities in which at least one driver had a positive blood alcohol content level lessened by 13.2 percent.” Less alcohol and more pot equals less deaths.

Yes, the Hempire is striking back with ferocity. All across America for decades pot activists have been using the system the way it was intended; by the book, peacefully, and without incident. There has been no violence, no victims, & no social upheaval. That may be because the cannabis reform movement is a peace movement.

Finally, the people are pushing back, and in the process, pushing the envelope forward. Now it is time to roll up our sleeves and finish the job for good. What is the eventual end goal? TOTAL WORLD LEGALIZATION. That is the last stop of this freedom train.

“All aboard!”

*This article originally appeared in the Seattle P.I. “City Brights” guest blog column. 

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Katie Morse

Staff Check-In needs YOU!

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Do you love people? Do you love working in the nice cool shade? Can you work a computer keyboard? STAFF CHECK-IN is looking for friendly volunteers with lots of patience to register and check in all the volunteers from all 119 Hempfest crews. Come be a part of the heart and soul of our event, help guide and inform the volunteers from our comfy Staff Compound!

Email your Staff Director at; katie@hempfest.org for more info and the secret password.

We need help Tuesday, 8/12 through Tuesday, 8/19, day and night shifts- you get to choose!

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