Early this year, I came out of the closet as a conservative cannabis proponent in a letter to the editor in the Billings Gazette. The next four months were a whirlwind of hearings, protests, pleas, and rants… with a mote of hope thrown in there occasionally. In that time, I heard a recurring theme from prohibitionists across the state. They repeated dutifully some variation or another that Montana voters were duped into a pseudo legalization of cannabis when they were under the impression that only terminally ill patients would be using it, and that this wasn’t what Montanans voted for. They expressed fear that the cannabis industry would begin to buy elections and recruit its own candidates. The GOP’s anti-cannabis sheep were certain that medical use of marijuana in Montana was only a stepping stone to full-out legalization of the substance.
In 2004, when Montanans voted to approve the use of medical cannabis, I was an active (if you can call it active) member of the local Republican Women’s group. Prior to the election, the group began peddling fear and ignorance-based rhetoric-primarily directed at I-148- at a level so extreme, I resigned from the group permanently. I am not a marijuana user personally and although I did support the issue at the time, I wasn’t intimately involved with the initiative and I really can’t admit with any honesty whether or not the medical law was designed to lead to legalization. For many reasons as an industry, we have tried to avoid the legalization issue entirely, but I am going to say it now. Marijuana should be legal and conservatives should OWN this issue for many numerous reasons…. I won’t, however; hold my breath.
Jobs– The 2010 campaign season was dominated by promises to create a more favorable job climate in our state. Legalizing and regulating marijuana would create many jobs in numerous industries. Whether or not MTCIA is successful in temporarily halting SB 423 will have little or no affect on the number of cannabis users in Montana. Montanans have been smoking pot forever and they will continue to do so regardless of the GOP’s mission to purge the scourge. Republicans should accept this and embrace the movement.
Fiscal Responsibility/Government Waste– Fiscal responsibility means limiting government expenditures for programs that can be convincingly said to generate benefits in excess of their costs. America’s war on drugs is a miserable- and EXPENSIVE- failure. In 2009, over 700,000 Americans were prosecuted for marijuana crimes, most (87%) for simply possessing small amounts of the substance. National Review estimates that approximately 100,000 people are currently imprisoned in the US solely for marijuana crimes. Prior to being arrested, a vast majority of these “criminals” were functioning and taxpaying members of society. After conviction of a drug crime, many are unable to find work. In many cases, they enroll in public welfare programs or they turn to crime, either avenue further draining society. We’ve spent over a trillion dollars on fighting the “war” on drugs- with most of that sum funding anti-marijuana efforts, not meth, heroin, or cocaine. Considering not even ONE person has died directly from marijuana use/overdose/interaction, wouldn’t rational human beings consider that maybe, just maybe; this isn’t working? Every year, prescription drugs kill at least 300 Montanans, but rarely (except for Bullock’s recent PSAs) do we hear anything about the dangers lurking in our own medicine cabinets. The reality is that over 100 million Americans have experimented with marijuana. Very few of them actually use it habitually, certainly some do, but that is hardly justification for utilizing the government nanny. Intelligence and logic should still apply, even when we find issues distasteful. It is truly amazing that otherwise informed people are influenced so heavily by fear. It makes sense to reduce budgets on programs that are unnecessary and ineffective.
State Sovereignty– The Tenth Amendment reads
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
It required a constitutional amendment to prohibit alcohol and it should for other issues as well. Regardless of party affiliation, Montanans have an independent streak and most don’t appreciate intervention from the federal government. Ranchers- Republicans and Democrats-were poised to protect their cattle from wolves, even if that required breaking federal law. A majority of Montanans want to opt out of federal healthcare reform- and that legislation was written by our own Senator Max Baucus. Montanans said NO to Real ID. We passed the Firearms Freedom Act, which excludes firearms manufactured in Montana from federal regulation. Montanans don’t want a nanny.
TEA People– Legalizing marijuana is also a perfect issue for the Tea People- it could easily represent each of the core facets of their “movement”- fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. Throw in one of their favorite amendments- let’s go with the 10th- and we SHOULD have the Mad Hatter’s wet dream. Montana Tea People, however; are not that interested in liberty unless it adheres to their rather strict religious standards. The Tea people rant about smaller government and more freedom- marijuana would certainly fall under that umbrella, but no… the Tea people screamed “RINO” at the only Republicans with the balls to vote against the majority. Finally, drug prohibition is hopelessly inconsistent with allegiance to free markets. Free markets should mean that as long as such practices don’t harm others, businesses can operate as they please and consumers can consume what they want.
Safety– While not necessarily a conservative principle, safety is something everyone can appreciate and the Safe Community, Safe Kids repeal group certainly exploited the term, so it is fair game. If marijuana was legal, it would be regulated and thus, more likely to be safe. It would be purchased from a reputable purveyor instead of an unscrupulous drug dealer. The product would meet minimum standards of quality and safety providing peace of mind that you aren’t smoking carcinogenic chemical residue, fungus, or spider mite bodies. Inflated prices were announced immediately after passage of SB 423. Remove the prohibition element, prices fall.
Liberty and Individual Freedom– While no party has the monopoly on liberty, they all seem to have a different definition or interpretation of the word. Only I own my body, the government should have no jurisdiction over what I put in it. What I do after I put substances in it is another story, but hardly requires federal legislation.
Consider for a moment how we now view these people….
Science/Medical– Science easily justifies the medical use of cannabis as well as affirms the substance’s relative safety for non-medical use. Compounds in marijuana shrink tumors associated with several particularly deadly cancers and there is evidence that marijuana actually prevents some cancers from occurring. I’m well aware that as a party, we are proud of our resistance to change. Advocates across the nation watched Montana’s legislative process intently. The legislature had the opportunity and the means to create thoughtful legislation representing conservative and pro-business principles. Instead, religiosity reigned and Republicans abandoned conservative principles in favor or a religious, big government/control freak agenda. Overwhelmingly they chose the regressive approach and alienated plenty of independents and Republicans as a result.
While it appears there is a fair chance that through the referendum process and key legal challenges, the industry will be able to stop the law until the voters have the opportunity to speak again on this issue in 2012, I feel the need to question the sanity of the GOP leadership. The GOP-led legislature received a 14% approval rating from Montanans. Instead of creating stellar- hell,even marginal- legislation to regulate Montana’s medical marijuana program, they chose to essentially repeal. If marijuana is on the 2012 ballot, Republicans will have only themselves to blame for mobilizing liberal voters. Montana’s Republican legislators, in failure; gave the Democrats the greatest gift of all. But what do I know? I’m just a dirty conservative hippie… or something.
Conservatives out there, if you can back up your argument, bring it. I welcome debate on this issue because I really want to understand.