Marijuana is bipartisan. We know this: In every session circle, there’s at least one person with a Ron Paul button stashed in a junk drawer or a Gary Johnson vote in his or her past (now hidden for all time, tucked away under the weight of a Trump presidency).
But marijuana’s relationship with mainstream Republicans is complicated at best.
Sure, you had presidential candidate Rand Paul stay true to the GOP’s small-government values and espouse marijuana legalization—and now we have Jeff Sessions and his avowed support for mandatory minimums and enforcing drug laws preparing to take over the Justice Department.
But all politics is local, as they say, and local Republicans can apparently read the polls.
A majority of Americans support legalization, and an overwhelming majority believe in medical marijuana. This includes Republicans: 42 percent of GOP voters support marijuana reform, according to an October 2016 Gallup poll recently returned to our attention by Quartz. And, as this humble outlet has noted in the past, efforts to expand access to cannabis are happening in Republican-controlled statehouses.
There may be more closet Republicans at cannabis conventions and in dispensaries than we know.
Lifelong Republican Ann Lee, a silver-haired octogenarian from Texas, remembers participating in a pro-pot panel in 2012, one of many at which she’s spoke since backing California’s 2010 effort to legalize cannabis. (You may have heard of her son: Richard Lee, founder of California cannabis grow college Oaksterdam University and the main bankroller of Prop. 19, which paved the way for the successful marijuana legalization pushes in Colorado and Washington in 2012. Lee has used a wheelchair since a serious workplace accident in the early 1990s. Seeing how marijuana relieved his pain and helped him function was what made Ann Lee realize the drug war was built on untruths.)
After the panel broke up, she started talking politics with her fellow speakers, 60 percent of whom turned out to be fellow GOP voters. That blew Lee’s mind. To find other like-minded true conservatives into small government and personal liberty—and to avoid leaving one of the country’s two major political parties and becoming a Libertarian—Lee started a political nonprofit: Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.
Things started slow. A few Republican lawmakers came out strong in favor of legalization. And one conservative Christian Republican, Jason Vaughn, presented a religious argument for cannabis reform. But with few exceptions, anti-prohibition right-wingers were rare mavericks. Then came the polls, and lo: Republicans across the country are falling in line.
As Quartz reported, Tennessee Republicans Jeremy Faison and Steve Dickerson are behind a proposal that would see medical marijuana cultivated in 50 grow houses across the state beginning in December. Medical marijuana’s main advocate in Missouri, Jim Neely, is a Republican, converted to the cause after his daughter died of cancer in 2015.
As usual, Congress is the slowest to catch on, but even the House of Representatives’ Cannabis Caucus has Republicans. One, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, is likely to take a lead role this year and act as the group’s spokesman. Whether that’ll lead to federal marijuana reform bills to actually be called for a hearing by the committee chairs in Speaker Paul Ryan’s Congress remains to be seen, but acting as human roadblocks impeding drug policy reform is becoming harder and harder—for all Republicans.