Republican Rhetoric v. Reality: A Conservative Case for Legalization


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.

The hypocrisy of Montana Shrugged

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….

Is this REALLY the sort of legacy conservatives want to leave?

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.

Dramatic Senate Standoff Provides Beacon of Hope to Drug Dealers Across the Nation


Safe Community, Safe Kids asked Montana "who will stand up for your kids?" I hope they enjoy their answer.

Drug dealers, cartels and gangs of organized criminals are salivating at the employment opportunities being created in Montana by Republicans in the legislature.  Other criminal drug enterprises are excited at the prospects of adding marijuana back into their line-ups of available illegal substances.  The prohibition party apparently believes  advancing their moral agenda under the guise of making our community and kids safer is worth actually risking our state’s safety and our kid’s futures by advancing legislation which unintentionally but effectively stimulates illegal drug activity in Montana.  Since Montana allowed the medical use of cannabis, the state has enjoyed continually improving crime rates.  Will Montana’s crime rates skyrocket after elected leaders legislatively subsidize the criminal narcotics element?

A number of factors contributed to a dramatic and surprising outcome of Sen. Jeff Essmann’s socialistic (government-controlled access, supply and demand) SB 423 reading  in the Montana Senate,  which in a shocking move, instantly revived dying HB 161, a full repeal of Montana’s medical marijuana law passed in 2004 by citizen’s initiative.  Republican Senate  leadership apparently misjudged or overlooked Wednesday’s deadline for SB 423 to proceed to the House.  In order to accommodate the looming deadline, a rules suspension was required to allow the bill to be heard and voted upon twice in one day. The Senate GOP majority was on first attempt unable to obtain the required 2/3 majority votes necessary to suspend the rules. After the initial rules suspension vote failed, Sen. Brenden of Scobey retaliated, making a successful blast motion sending Rep Milburn’s repeal legislation, HB 161, which had stalled after a deadlock in the Senate Judiciary Committee, to the Senate floor for full debate.  Disappointed at unfruitful attempts to cash in some bargaining chips in exchange for support, Democrats persevered, undaunted even after Republicans resurrected HB 161, in obvious attempt to intimidate dissenting senators in hopes of threatening gently persuading them. The GOP again failed to produce the necessary votes.

The blame for the likely demise of medical marijuana reform legislation, according to many Republicans rests  squarely on the left- Governor Schweitzer’s office in particular.  Senate majority leader Jeff Essmann, who sponsored the “reform” bill in question was quick to criticize the governor’s office for utilizing the entire 6 days allowed by rules to prepare a fiscal note detailing the financial impact of the legislation.  The bill’s fiscal note was only available Wednesday morning which didn’t allow enough time for separate votes on the legislation, according to Senator Essmann.  Fortunately for the Republicans, the bill still has the ability to proceed to the House- but only if the house too is willing to approve a suspension of the rules, also requiring a 2/3  majority vote.  In the event that the House fails to garner the necessary numbers, the reform bill is considered dead.  The House’s  repeal-friendly political climate suggests a  house-approved rules suspension may be unlikely, although not entirely impossible.

Montana’s left wing, proactively seeking a workable solution made numerous attempts at compromise with Republicans to no avail- an increasingly common occurrence this session. Some Democrats hoped to exchange rules suspension votes for Republican support of unrelated legislation such as the bonding bill but Republicans refused to cooperate. Still 0ther Democrat senators claimed their votes against rules suspension were due to Republicans killing a majority of  the thoughtful amendments to SB 423 sponsored by Democrats.  Without the amendments, the legislation was considered by many, a repeal bill masquerading as reform. The legislation unamended, also  lacked the support of patients and facility owners alike.   Naturally, Republicans have responded to charges of being uncooperative with Democrat legislators by leveling their own at the Democrat legislators.  While I’m inclined to support Republicans in most right-left battles, Republicans in this case appear to be drunk on power and for reasons unknown,  determined to eliminate any chance at their own success in 2012 elections.   Sanity is currently a questionable diagnosis for this party so I’m reluctant to buy their stories.  This time the Democrats seem more credible- even if only by default- as Republicans have displayed such a  compelling propensity for dishonesty this session.

The  high-drama political spectacle orchestrated by Senate Republicans today was a gift to illegal drug dealers and associated organized criminals who now can  optimistic about their realistic chances of soon controlling the market, supply, and prices of marijuana in Montana.  Montana’s medical cannabis industry has driven illegal marijuana dealers out of the state.  Competing with legitimate state-licensed facilities wasn’t attractive to the black market criminals who watched prices plummet after card-holding customers began utilizing licensed caregivers.  Most marijuana currently sells for around half the price it did prior to enacting Montana’s medical cannabis law which was passed in 2004.  Historically, prohibition is beneficial for gangs and organized criminals.  Quality always suffers and prices increase.

Essmann frequently mentions”This isn’t what Montanans voted for”  although I’m certain he doesn’t know either.  I doubt Montanans would in good conscience support legislation  for the “greater good” that would actually cause further degradation of our society, but because repeal would require overturning an initiative passed by Montana citizens anyway, they should have an opportunity,  just in case Essmann doesn’t  actually know what we thought we were voting for.

Considering the widespread use of marijuana, a safe and effective substance, is likely to continue regardless of legislation passed in Montana, one wonders why the GOP would destroy an entire industry, thus ensuring virtually associated money ends up smuggled in backpacks to northern California instead of being spent in Montana. Tough choices, legislators:  Contribute to our own state’s depressed economy or fund drug dealing  California criminals? Thousands of Montanans employed by the medical cannabis industry or thousands of Montanans drawing unemployment benefits draining resources?  Legitimately ill patients obtaining medicine in a safe, clean and professional atmosphere or patients self-medicating with marijuana they acquired in a dark alley via terrifying strangers while risking their freedom to relieve their pain? The choice is clear but unfortunately your legislators aren’t listening.

Brother Zabawa’s Karmic Relief


 

Zabawa is no fan of cannabis, but he sure likes to hire alcoholics

 

Uh oh! Rimrock Auto Group is in some more trouble. According to the Yellowstone County Detention Facility’s website, one of of their managers is currently an occupant.  Oddly enough, he was NOT arrested for using medical marijuana, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.  This isn’t his first offense, nor his second, or even his third.  Maurice Gunn was arrested yesterday at a Billings  McDonald’s while napping in a Cadillac Escalade featuring a dealer’s demo license plate, one can only assume who owned the vehicle.  Considering Maurice has already been convicted of DUI three times prior, it is questionable whether he even owned a valid driver’s license.

You may recall reading Gunn’s name in the newspaper in 2009,  when he was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay $1,352 restitution for lying to FEMA about being a Katrina victim to get aid. Although Rimrock Auto Group did have a dealership destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Gunn was not among the employees sent to New Orleans and never traveled there.  He wasn’t the only employee of Zabawa’s who lied to FEMA to receive aid that he didn’t deserve either…. In case you are interested in helping a man out, Maurice Gunn’s current bond is apparently 25 grand.

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Steve Zabawa should spend more time interviewing and doing background checks on  his potential employees than testifying against suffering patients who seek relief from medical cannabis.  Keep in mind many of his employees call the Alpha House (a halfway house for felons) home.   Brother Zabawa, obedient Mormon,  has had quite a track record hiring alcoholics.  Perhaps that is where he should focus his passion.

 

Looks like Mr Gunn works for Brother Zabawa.....