Over half of US states—28—have legalized medical marijuana. Legalization is supported by sixty percent of Americans, based on an October 2016 Gallup poll—including 42% of Republicans. A few of these cannabis supporters live in states that are traditional, and some are even in their own state’s legislature,currently supporting marijuana reform measures.
In Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah— traditionally Republican locales— marijuana reform bills are introduced for consideration in the coming sessions.“And, it’s worth noting that Republicans, who control state legislatures in most of these states, are behind the drive,” writes Maureen Meehan in High Times on Jan. 16.
This month in Missouri, a Republican representative and licensed doctor, Jim Neely, introduced a bill to give terminally ill patients access to medical marijuana. His daughter died of cancer in 2015, and Neely believes the drug would have helped relieve her pain. An initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri last year didn’t make it on the November vote. However, Neely stated that the culture appears to be open now, noting, “I believe the timing is great.” He said on Jan. 13 that he’s confident the bill will make it to the House floor, thanks to his conservative bona fides and medical professional qualifications.
In Tennessee, two Republican legislators, Steve Dickerson and Jeremy Faison, a physician, introduced a measure to legalize therapeutic marijuana in December. They think it’s going to be an economic advantage to the state. The bill allows for 50 grow houses to be constructed, 15 of them designated for economically distressed zones.
The Tennessean reports that the marijuana measure is also part of a drive by lawmakers to undertake an opioid outbreak. More opioid prescriptions are handed out than there are individuals in Tennessee, and marijuana is viewed as a feasible, non-addictive alternative for pain alleviation.
Republican representative Ryan Williams co-sponsored a similar bill to legalize medical marijuana during the 2015 session, but it died in committee. He told The Tennessean there will likely be a “huge push” for medical marijuana during the 2017 legislative session to deal with the opioid outbreak.
Marijuana has rapidly become a non-partisan problem. Young Republicans are undoubtedly mainly sold. Based on a 2015 Pew Research survey, 63% of Republican millennials thinks marijuana should be legalized. But even senior conservatives are getting on board.
Ann Lee is the octogenarian founder of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). A lifelong Republican, she used to think cannabis proved to be a dangerous gateway drug, until her son became a paraplegic at 28-years-old, in 1990. She read about the therapeutic effects of cannabis for nerve pain and became convinced that it ought to be legalized. She believes prohibition flies in the face of the Republican principles of fiscal responsibility, small government, and personal liberty. RAMP was founded by Lee after speaking on a pro-marijuana panel in the year 2012 and uncovering that 60% of the speakers shared her political affiliation, but believed they were alone.
She now works with other Republicans against prohibition, like the conservative and religious Texan cannabis activist, Jason Vaughn. In April 2015, he wrote an essay that went viral, entitled “A Pro-Life Defense of Marijuana Legalization.” In it, Vaughn explains, “I’ve always been a fan of limited government and personal responsibility. When I started to really consider the facts of how many Texans are jailed each year for possession it really clicked.” His legalization is linked by Vaughn to his pro-life beliefs by asserting that criminalization results in death and more crime, and he’s for life, after all. He said that he was inspired by Texas Republican representative David Simpson, who has long opposed marijuana prohibition, and who introduced a revolutionary reform bill to terminate the war on pot in Texas in 2015, which was defeated by his colleagues in May of that year.
Simpson’s approach is exceptional in cannabis advocacy. In an op-ed titled “The Christian case for drug law reform,” he wrote, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.” Simpson doesn’t believe in prohibiting any plants, and in fact is against prohibitions generally, at least not on anything but violence. “The Bible warns about excessive drinking, eating and sleeping (Proverbs 23:21), but it doesn’t prohibit the activities or the substances or conditions connected with them—alcohol, food and exhaustion,” Simpson noted. “Elsewhere, wine and feasting are recognized as blessings from God. Scripture stresses respect for our neighbor’s freedom and conscience, moderation for all and abstinence for some.”