Politics makes strange bedfellows, and in the 2014 election cycle the Republican Party has crawled under the covers with the medical marijuana community. It seems to be working- but not for everyone, and not unconditionally.
Candidates are always looking for The Bump, that rise in polling numbers or spike in votes gained by hammering away at the current hot button topic. Citizens have a sweet spot and, and like Tiger Woods using a titanium driver on a dimpled white sphere, politicians are looking to drive their acceptance down the fairway with a strong swing.
Polling numbers indicate that the issue of marijuana law reform is the sweet spot for a growing number of Americans. Even those voters that have no personal experience with the Cannabis Sativa L. plant read the headlines and they see the consequences of a failed national policy of anti-marijuana rhetoric: science says there are medicinal properties despite government denials; full legalization models are functional and operating in two states; corruption and forfeiture abuse stories punctuate the news cycle weekly; and rightsizing government is a popular election-year pastime.
Both parties recognize the value of the media-friendly issue and could use The Bump. Battleground states like Michigan have gubernatorial and Senate races that could be decided by a few percentage points. Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder is in a neck-and-neck battle with his Democratic opponent Mark Schauer, while races in the state for the Attorney General and US Congress remain too close to call. Michigan has 150,000 registered adult medical marijuana patients and caregivers, a huge voting block.
Some politicians make a very good living capitalizing on momentary swings in public opinion. Although Democrats have traditionally been a source of support for the liberal agenda, the drive to reform marijuana laws comes from a cross-section of the population that isn't easily able to be defined as 'liberal' anymore. On a state level and nationally the Republicans have tried to take the popular issue and make it their own but their standard, business-before-babies approach often seems more like Richard Nixon and less like Rand Paul.
Conservatives have enacted half-hearted efforts to go from "I hate pot" to "I like pot voters" all across America. Trying to appease voters and not upset their traditional power base has been difficult for many, but a business outfit named Realm of Caring has made it easier for some. By convincing certain state leaders that marijuana can help children- but only for a specific illness and only if taken in an oil like the one created by ROC- they have successfully convinced nearly a dozen states to pass laws (CBD-only bills) allowing the use of cannabis oils. Some of these state programs only allow the ROC-type of cannabis oil to be recommended by doctors and administered by parents.
Although they could be shouting in joy at the thought of an incremental change in attitudes toward marijuana, cannabis supporters aren't. These laws are easily seen for what they are: politically-motivated half-steps that appease no one and satisfy just a tiny portion of the needy population. Michigan has a robust medical marijuana program with over 150,000 registrants and at the last count there were only 53 children, many of whom may receive zero benefit from the ROC oil. It's an obvious baby step when others are making full strides.
Governors and Senators in those states may have imagined that their efforts would be rewarded at the ballot box in November but they will not see The Bump. Wisconsin Republicans were so eager to pass their CBD-only law that they forgot to include any legal method of obtaining the oil. Florida legislators passed a CBD-only bill to try and derail a state-wide effort to enact a more broad medical marijuana law but that strategy has not been successful. The one thing all voters share in common: they are adults. Any so-called 'marijuana' program that doesn't include adult medicinal use is never going to satisfy marijuana supporters on a large scale.
Some Republicans have been anti-marijuana for so long they'll NEVER get the support of voters in their state. Michigan's Attorney General William Duncan Schuette is one of those men.
Schuette did the unthinkable- as a sitting Court of Appeals judge he took a major political stance in 2008 and led the opposition to the proposed medical marijuana law. It passed by a 63% vote. Schuette famously flip-flopped on the issue of dispensaries, claiming before the November election that a yes vote for medical marijuana would bring a pot shop on every street corner but pronouncing that the law did NOT include dispensaries after it passed. Two years later in 2010 he was elected the state's top cop and immediatelybegan a jihad against the emergent cannabis industry.
Other Michigan Republican leaders have endorsed or signed on to marijuana industry generated legislation. The current Provisioning Centers Act (PCA), a dispensary bill being debated in the state Senate, was written in 2011 by agents for the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers and is championed by the National Patients Rights Association but is sponsored by Republican legislators. The bill's progress is in the hands of the Senate Majority Leader, Randy Richardville, a Republican who himself forced a business-created marijuana distribution law through both houses of legislature in 2013.
Schuette will not see cannabis votes ever in his lifetime but other Republicans in the state might if the PCA legislation is approved before the November election. Passage of the PCA and its companion bill allowing consumption of edibles and concentrates will help the state Republicans in the tight races for governor and legislative positions- but only if the content of the bills remain as created by the marijuana advocates themselves. Last-minute changes to the bills, like a move to create commercial marijuana growing operations or adding burdensome restrictions on locations for distribution centers, will wipe The Bump out of the equation for state conservatives, even if the bills are passed, and there will be no Bump if delays prevent a vote prior to the election.
UPDATE THE ARGUMENTS
One of the problems conservatives face when opposing marijuana law reform are the conservatives themselves.
Spokespersons for the right-wing effort to change cannabis laws can do more harm than good by spewing outdated attitudes or trying to spin science. A perfect example: Kevin Sabet. The mouthpiece for Project SAM is frequently featured on national television programs. Sabet leans on debunked medical studies and select university reports to argue that marijuana use is a public health problem that should be treated like an addiction. His rhetoric sounds more like the rantings of the Bigfoot Hunters than discourse from a learned professional.
That makes refuting his positions easy- Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project and Russ Belville of 420Radio.org are experts at the art of deciphering the Sabet pseudo-science rhetoric- but his presence on television means Patrick Kennedy and Company still think people will believe whatever a white man in a suit tells them. We've evolved past that.
Another way the right loses average voters because they can't get over themselves: ridiculous restrictions on marijuana use or dispensary locations. Asking dispensary owners to pay astronomical registration fees or prohibiting medical marijuana patients from growing cannabis in their own home are actions championed by conservatives but rejected by the general populace as unnecessary and even appropriate. CBD-only bills? 24 hour television surveillance of... plants? Only one dispensary per town? These issues are losers in the minds of the modern American.
Gone are the days (almost) when you could treat marijuana patients and businesses like second-class citizens just because they were marijuana businesses or potheads. Stoners learned how to call the ACLU. Current and former smokers got jobs in television and entertainment. One of us became the Attorney General of the United States of America. Another one became President.
Actually, several of us have become President. Numbers don't lie, and there simply is no denying marijuana acceptance is spiking while prohibition is failing. If the Republican Party is to remain relevant in the minds of marijuana users they'll have to make their message more THC-friendly.