Where There’s Smoke – The Rise of the Cannabis Conservative

The 2016 election certainly proved that the political landscape has changed.

This is not your momma’s two-party system. The Democrats have leaned deep left into socialism, and the Republicans, well, the Republicans elected Donald Trump. The Trump phenomenon expanded the Republican “tent” like never before, and brought a truly varied and eclectic group of voters together behind the common cause of America First. Conservatives, libertarians, independents, and many first-time voters both young and old jumped on the Trump train and helped the Republicans elect the 45th president. The Republican party, at least under President Trump, is the most diverse it has ever been.

Many of these new “Republican” voters have very different positions than the lifer Republicans. Whether it’s gay marriage, abortion rights or women in the military, large contingencies of the Trump republican party support positions traditionally held by liberals. This is most certainly true with marijuana laws. But the “cannabis conservative” was not created in 2016. It’s not merely a few college Trump supporters smoking a “winning” blunt, but has been a movement growing (pun intended) in the Republican party for some time.

There has always been a divide in the Republican party between the big government social conservatives and the small government conservatives and libertarians who view conservatism as a system of maximum liberty and minimum government intervention. The drug war has always been right in the center of that divide, with social conservatives viewing drug criminalization as a moral obligation while limited government conservatives view drug criminalization as a violation of our personal liberty.

It is this passion for limited government and maximum personal freedom that led many small government republicans into the marijuana legalization movement. Jack Herer, often considered the founding father of the legalization movement, in 1985 wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, the most sold book on marijuana legalization of all time, and was in fact a Goldwater republican. The hemp history laid out the facts about marijuana in the US, reminding us hemp was a legal crop at the birth of our nation, praised for it’s many uses by our founding fathers.

Small government policies and marijuana legalization have linked up repeatedly over the years since. Like Herer, many early legalization activists were limited government conservatives. With the popular candidacy of Ron Paul, many pro-pot conservatives were moved to vote for Paul in the GOP primary, with his open support for ending the war on drugs. When the Tea Party movement blossomed, calling once again for limited government, many cannabis conservatives felt renewed hope that their dream of a government that stayed out of our business and our stash boxes might come true via the republican party.

In 2012, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RASP, was founded, after founder Ann Lee discovered that 3 of the 5 fellow speakers at the NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) convention were conservatives. Since then, support for changes in marijuana law among Republicans has continued to grow. A YouGov.com study found that support for legalization among republicans was 60% oppose vs 28% support in 2014, but their 2016 data shows a shift in majority support, with 45% of republicans now supporting legalization and 42% opposing. The study shows a growing bipartisan trend nationwide in support of legalization, with some of the largest margins of changing opinion coming from the conservative side.

Several republican lawmakers have joined in the battle for legal marijuana. GOP legislators in Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee and Alabama, to name a few states, have introduced bills in support of marijuana decriminalization or legalization. Senators like Rand Paul oppose the drug war and this position has majority support among voters……when it comes to marijuana. 60% of Americans support legalizing the plant.

The triumph of Donald Trump and its expansion of the republican party has opened the door to a broad range of ideas that have not been traditionally republican. Marijuana legalization is certainly one of those ideas. There is some level of debate about the position of the administration on legal weed. However, most advocates feel quite comfortable with Trump’s statements supporting state’s rights, and on his “100% support for medical” marijuana as indications of an unprecedented level of support from a republican president.

In fact, Trump has made many statements about legal hemp. He has discussed the possible benefits of legal recreational weed in interviews and in the same interviews, discussed his concerns about the impact on society. He has repeatedly stated he supports medical marijuana “100%”, even after pressed on his position by conservative journalists like Bill O’Reilly. While other politicians may expect to lose support from their conservative base for backing traditionally “liberal” ideas (even slightly), Trump continues to see a great deal of loyalty from conservatives and faith based voters while actually being the most pro-pot republican president of all time. Just ask High Times magazine, who has published several articles on Trump and what he brings to the legalization movement.

While a great deal remains to be seen about this new administration and it’s domestic drug policies, the trend toward legal weed has become a majority, both in the democrat and republican parties. The rise of the cannabis conservative, the hempublican, or the libudtarian will in fact continue. With more states legalizing like Nevada did this week, legal marijuana may in fact be the truly bipartisan issue of our times, with more lawmakers across the aisle agreeing on legal cannabis than they agree about healthcare. Maybe if they’d pass legal pot, we’d need less healthcare….but that is a story for another day.

But Suzzanne, you say, all of that is academic. Pot is still illegal federally. What does all this mean for me, the reader, right now?

Well, dear reader, it means this: maybe with all the vitriol, party division, and rage between the left and the right, maybe we all need to sit down and do something we both like to do……smoke a big fattie. That might be the solution to all of this hate, a little puff, puff pass to peace. I urge all my pot loving patriots to invite a sativa-loving snowflake over for a peace pipe. I encourage any of you “resistance” fighters to come roll one with me. We might find we have more “jointly” shared opinions than you think.

Just remember to bring your OWN bag so you don’t have to mooch off mine. I know how you lefties love free stuff.