The Republican Party and Medical Marijuana

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for medical marijuana. The chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Chuck Rosenberg, has stepped down after Trump’s remarks over police conduct. Rosenberg has long considered the concept of medical cannabis a “joke” and has used the Controlled Substances Act to enforce federal law on states that allow medical marijuana distribution, cultivation, and sale. In the meantime, top Republican Senators like Utah’s Orrin Hatch, have stated:

It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana … All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Support for Medical Marijuana is Growing

With news like this, medical marijuana users can appreciate Orrin Hatch’s turn of phrase. Either he or his speechwriter clearly knows a thing or two about metaphors and similes. However, such news shouldn’t necessarily be unusual to patients in Utah or otherwise. We have written about how cannabis is less of a partisan issue in the past. 60% of U.S. citizens may well support some form of cannabis legalization. Sure, it’s mostly Democrats (67%) and Independents (70%), but when 42% of Republicans are also in favor, it’s not surprising that the overall result becomes “most U.S. citizens favor cannabis legalization in some form or another”.

Now, there are many people who support legalization on medical grounds only, and at the same time, there are some rather staunch social and economic liberals who’d like to see the whole gamut legalized, bright colors, flashy marketing and all. The Gallup poll doesn’t pick up on this nuance, but it does pick up on the fact that there is a certain zeitgeist for cannabis legalization in America. Indeed, the zeitgeist of “you should be allowed to grow and consume the fruits of your own labor” has been around for quite a while – it’s pretty much one of the main tenets of the U.S.!

Do State Rights Trump All?

Trump and Sessions must clearly know about this, and must also see the division on this issue within their own party ranks. We cannot discount the existence of Republican Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). Many Republicans are also quite supportive of state rights, and so may hold El Presidente to his words. Now, we don’t want to say that legalized marijuana will make-or-break Trump’s presidency, but come 2020 and a looming election, voters may well use his stance as a judge of character.

“Does Trump really believe in the right for states to have their own say, without too much meddling from federal government, or was it all just sloganeering? Does Trump care about the overwhelming support for cannabis legalization, or is he just pandering to core voters and special interest groups? Does Trump go forward with what he actually believes in, or does he fold under the pressure from his detractors (of which there are many, Republican or not)? If Trump backs down on this, what else would he back down on?”

Strangely enough, the issue of cannabis legalization makes for an interesting “test bed” in terms of looking at the politics of the Republican Party as a whole. In order to remain consistent with their free enterprise ideals, many Republicans may choose to support cannabis legalization, even if they don’t use it themselves. Some are socially as well as economically liberal. Others have seen friends and family whose lives have been transformed for the better thanks to cannabis. If Trump doesn’t get the issue of cannabis legalization right, he may well lose a lot of his voters, and his prospects of becoming the next Republican candidate increasingly diminish. This represents a huge balancing act at the moment for Trump, Sessions and co.

Furthermore, Sessions’ own experts have recommended that he respect state rights, and the Senate Committee has OKed medical marijuana protections. Can the Republican party afford to stop listening to its own senators on the issue? If ignored, many from the Senate and beyond are likely to start thinking, “This is the thin end of the wedge – how much further will you go to erode state rights on other issues?”

Balancing Rights and Values

The fact is, a voter may be more concerned with state rights than whether or not cannabis is legal. Indeed, a voter may be vehemently opposed to cannabis legalization, but in complete support of state rights, and therefore back states’ right to choose regardless of their own stance on cannabis. A Republican voter would be correct in looking at Sessions’ record and thinking, “He doesn’t seem so supportive of state rights. Are the candidates I vote for really representing core Republican values and what the public wants?”

However, getting cannabis legalization right on a federal level represents a huge task for any government, Republican or Democrat. Remember what we mentioned about nuance above? Many people, Democrat or Republican, want legalization “for medical purposes only”. Someone could read a question like “Do you favor cannabis legalization?” could be answered with a caveat either way. “Yes, but for medical purposes only” or “No, unless it’s for medical purposes.”

For politicians, cracking the enigma of “What do the citizens want?” is a tricky one. “Regulate in a similar way to alcohol and tobacco, either downgrade or remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and allow funding for medical research into cannabis” would likely be the answer for many, and ones that would satisfy most voters.

Yet, because of the way people see cannabis (i.e. as a drug, with a varying degree of medical potential), those who support “recreational” legalization on a federal level and complete removal from the CSA may find themselves waiting for a little while longer. Sessions may yet one day yield to the scientific literature and approve of medical marijuana, but it looks like him and many other politicians will still differentiate between “recreational” and “medical” marijuana. It seems that, when we take all those nuances into consideration, much of the public agrees with this stance as well!

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