Spliff Split

Why don't more Republicans oppose the DEA's medical marijuana raids?

Last week the Los Angeles City Council voted for a measure that asked the federal government to stop harassing medical marijuana users in California. Minutes later, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided 10 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles County.

The disrespect for local judgments on local matters could not have been starker. Determined to maintain anti-drug orthodoxy, the DEA is running wild in the laboratories of democracy, smashing experiments in reform and injuring innocent bystanders.

The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed this cruel crusade to continue, based on the premise that a cancer or AIDS patient who grows a few marijuana plants to relieve his pain or nausea is engaged in interstate commerce and therefore subject to federal "regulation." As for Congress, on the day of the L.A. raids the House once again rejected a measure aimed at restraining the DEA.

Since the two other branches of the federal government have failed to protect medical marijuana patients, their most plausible hope lies in electing a president who is less intent on snatching their medicine. At this point the Democrats look decidedly more promising than the Republicans in this respect.

According to Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, seven of the eight declared candidates for the Democratic nomination have promised to call off the DEA's medical marijuana raids if elected. The eighth, Barack Obama, has said such raids "probably shouldn't be a high priority."

Three of the nine remaining Republican candidates—Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, and Tommy Thompson—oppose the DEA raids. But the rest of the Republicans, including the leading contenders, either have taken no position (Mitt Romney) or have said they would continue the current policy (which, it's worth remembering, has roots in the Clinton administration).

When he was asked about medical marijuana in April, the straight-talking John McCain said, "I will let states decide the issue." Less than three months later, asked if he would end the DEA's interference with medical marijuana use in the 12 states where it's legal, he had already changed his mind, saying, "Right now my answer to you is no." And in five minutes?

McCain's initial position on medical marijuana was reminiscent of George W. Bush's during his first presidential campaign, when he said, "I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose." At least Bush waited until after he was elected to renege on his promise.

The Republicans also look worse than the Democrats in congressional votes on this issue. It's true that a conservative Republican congressman, Dana Rohrabacher of California, repeatedly has joined Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) in cosponsoring an appropriations bill amendment that would prohibit the DEA from spending money on busting medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. But Democrats have been far more likely than Republicans to back the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which last week was supported by 66 percent of the Democrats who voted but opposed by 92 percent of the Republicans.

These partisan tendencies do not mean Democrats have greater respect for the division of powers between the federal government and the states. When it suits them, they're happy to support federal involvement in policy areas the Constitution leaves to the states. It's just that Democrats are, by and large, more comfortable with the therapeutic use of cannabis than Republicans are.

It's hard to find a logical explanation for this split. Republicans, conservatives especially, are traditionally critical of overly cautious regulators who prevent people from using drugs that could relieve their suffering safely and effectively. They have a record of supporting the freedom to use herbal home remedies without unreasonable bureaucratic interference.

The prevailing Republican stance on medical marijuana, which is at odds with what most Americans tell pollsters they think about the issue, can be understood only in light of the connotations that cannabis acquired as a result of its accidental association with the 1960s counterculture. In fighting a symbol of their opponents' principles, conservatives have sacrificed their own.

© Copyright 2007 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • ||

    The prevailing Republican stance on medical marijuana, which is at odds with what most Americans tell pollsters they think about the issue, can be understood only in light of the connotations that cannabis acquired as a result of its accidental association with the 1960s counterculture.

    No, I think it's more that they perceive (probably correctly) that medical marijuana undermines the drug war, and Republicans are less concerned about appearing compassionate.

  • ||

    I think it would be more accurate to say that the accidental association of weed with the 1960's counterculture is what is responsible for the relative support cannabis gets from the Democrats. If this were medical cocaine we were talking about, or medical heroin, the Dems would be just as authoritarian as the Republicans.

  • Ayn_Randian||

    Honestly, M. Sullum, I don't know why the Presidential candidates would even waste their time talking or thinking about the Drug War...sadly, candidates are a reflection of the People, and the People don't give a rip about drugs or drug users. They're just convinced their little Timmy or Jane will be able to walk into the Rite-Aid and buy coke sans the drug war.

    Hence why I am not convinced that anti-Iraq-war sentiment is really all that deep or broad; most Americans believe that America can "do anything, if we just commit" to solving terrorism, eliminating drugs...etc. etc.

    the majority doesn't like smokers, drug users, prostitutes et al., and they're oh-so-glad to trade liberty to impose their narrow-minded moral visions on the rest of us.

  • thoreau||

    The prevailing Republican stance on medical marijuana, which is at odds with what most Americans tell pollsters they think about the issue, can be understood only in light of the connotations that cannabis acquired as a result of its accidental association with the 1960s counterculture.

    I used to think there was something to that. But generational changes have done nothing to roll back the drug war.

    It may be that a few cranky old conservative intellectuals, a few who are otherwise good on economics and distrust of government, are letting their memories of "those damn hippies" cloud their judgement on drugs. But the rest of America simply buys the hysteria and supports doing "whatever it takes" to stop anybody from getting high.

  • Travis||

    Please leave ganja smokers alone. They are not bad people. They just want to get high, like people wanna get buzzed when they drink alcohol.

  • ||

    If this were medical cocaine we were talking about, or medical heroin, the Dems would be just as authoritarian as the Republicans.

    FYI, cocaine can be legally prescribed in the U.S. Heroin can't be, but there are close substitutes (e.g. morphine).

  • ||

    For what it's worth, I believe the "dirty smelly hippie" connection still has a hold on the Republicans.
    But on the other hand, I suspect 85% (or more) of those Republicans have tried it. I guess they think their own children, in contrast with themselves, are too feckless to resist the life-destroying thrall of the demon weed. Nice to know what they think of their children.

    BTW; I just saw a report that a new study in New Zealand claims marijuana is worse for you than tobacco. Seen it/ analyzed it yet, Mr Sullum?

  • ||

    In informal discussions with people across the political spectrum, I find no sense that the people of this country support liberalizing anything related to drugs.

    I have had the most success arguing for lenient sentencing, and I think we can have the most impact on that front. If we can temporarily concede that the public feels that there needs to be a conviction for burning the wrong plant, maybe we can get it to be a crime more similar to jay walking than capital murder.

  • ||

    BTW; I just saw a report that a new study in New Zealand claims marijuana is worse for you than tobacco. Seen it/ analyzed it yet, Mr Sullum?

    Story here.

  • ||

    It's hard to find a logical explanation for this split.

    No it isn't. Both parties are addicted to the WOsD. Right now the Republicans are in power, so they have to support the war. The Democrats can safely claim they would oppose the WOD, a position popular with their constituents, with no risk of actually doing anything. If they take back the majority, the Dem and Reps will trade rhetoric.

  • ||

    Republicans, conservatives especially, are traditionally critical of overly cautious regulators who prevent people from using drugs that could relieve their suffering safely and effectively. They have a record of supporting the freedom to use herbal home remedies without unreasonable bureaucratic interference.

    Any citations? Hell, I'd even take a few anecdotes.

    I can think of countervaling examples from recent times - HPV vaccine for cervical cancer prevention and (if you consider emergency contraception a means of relief from suffering) Plan B.

    Are you talking about echinea? WTF?

  • ||

    MP,
    Thanks for the link. Reading the article, reveals that it as another example of how deep the anti-pot paradigm is (apparently even in New Zealand). Long term cigarette smoking is highly correlated with emphysema and lung cancer. There are many studies that have found no such association with marijuana. Instead this new one claims MJ is associated with "coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and airflow obstruction". It's hard to say how much they're spinning the data on this one, but it fits the pattern.

  • SIV||

    destijl,

    Look up DSHEA. Republicans are much more amenable to trade and use of therapeutic "food supplements" without full FDA approval.The issue has been clouded a bit by the evils of ephedra.

  • ||

    de stijl,

    Yes, he's talking about echinacea. And as far as I know, he's pretty much talking about Orin Hatch. The herbal industrial complex has successfully lobbied for protection. The rhetoric used to keep herbal remedies out from under the thumb of the FDA, is exposed as naked opportunism when placed along side the opposition to Med MJ. It is especially disgusting when the question of efficacy is raised.

  • SIV||

    The "hard right" seems to prefer Judicial appointees who hold views like Clarence Thomas

    "No evidence from the founding suggests that 'commerce' included the mere possession of a good or some purely personal activity that did not involve trade or exchange for value. In the early days of the Republic, it would have been unthinkable that Congress could prohibit the local cultivation, possession, and consumption of marijuana."

    Scalia's vote in Raich aside, "originalist" legal rulings are the best scenario for actually ending the WoD.

  • Robert||

    Partly it's that "liberals" are more interested in the middle road of regulation, while "conservatives" are more interested in prohibitions and laissez faire.

    Being in favor of medical marijuana is not a winning issue for many candidates, but it may be a losing issue for some, especially Republicans. There are hardly any voters who would vote for a candidate based on that candidate's favoring med mj (although they'd vote for it in isolation, as in a referendum), but there is a substantial number of voters who would vote against a candidate on that basis, and right now those voters have shaken out mostly into the GOP.

    It's not a priority for the "pro" voters because they know that marijuana is widely available and that therefore med mj patients do have access to it in practical terms regardless of the laws. However, the "anti" voters take it as a symbol of what they're against in a candidate. It's a deal breaker for enough of them.

  • SIV||

    Republican support for choice in self medication with "herbal remedies" is deeper than Orin Hatch.

    Efficacy is irrelevant to the underlying issue of choice and freedom.If MJ is as bad(or worse) as the anti-drug crowd claims it wouldn't justify prohibition.

  • ||

    Max: Your point is well taken about GOPers not wanting to undermine the drug war, but didn't the drug war start as a reaction against the late 60's drug culture? Seems like the drug war and the anti-hippie stance started in the same place.

    Fatdrunk&Stupid: Not true, at least with respect to methadone and needle clinics. Ya gotta be careful with those "would be" statements!

    de stijl: Orrin Hatch is big on supplements (Utah-based, presumably). Dems against big pharma. Patron saint, Ron Paul. There are plenty of anti-regulation GOPers. The examples you cite are opposed because women might have sex. It's more than Orrin Hatch, if you're paying attention.

  • SIV||

    The California situation doesn't put the best face on medical marijuana.It does look more like back door legalization.

    Personally, I favor front door legalization...of everything, and an end to prescription "gatekeeping". Nothing radical, just a roll back of New Deal and Progressive era restrictions.

  • ||

    SIV-

    "Back door" legislation is much more politically feasible, and it still undermines the drug war. Its a good start to dismantling in little by little.

  • ||

    "This sagging of the pants marijuana use is to me a defiant act, and it has all kinds of implications," says Ms. Robinson, who is black. "If you can't get up in the morning and pull your pants up suffer your cancer like a man, that says a lot about you, even if I don't know anything about you."

  • ||

    Oh, and DSHEA passed a Democratic-controlled Congress.

  • ||

    They can not and will not do anything. Tell me when was the last time you heard a politician say they were wrong? Do you honestly think after all their decades of propaganda funded by tax payers they will admit they are full of shit in all regards? Don't hold your bong hit in to long waiting for that to happen.

    Not until all the OLDDDDDDDD guard are gone will we see changes made. To admit they were wrong means they have to take responsibility for incarcerating millions of people, killing no telling how many more, the loss of all the rights we have so far etc etc. When is that last time a politician to responsibility for anything?

    So long as big pharma is paying off politicians and the WoD is profitable in both money and power over the people no one is going to change anything. As I see it the war on terror is the latest round much like the WoD in which the government seems intent on stripping our rights out of creating fear and panic. Either way either war goes they can claim they need to keep up the fight or push harder etc. It is a never ending back and forth in which no matter how things are progressing they can continue on being our overlords. Look at the rights lost in the name of the WoD over the past 30 years then compare it to the rights we are now losing in the name of the War on Terror. The rate of loss is even faster with the WoT because they can instill more fear with it then drugs. In order to be safe from drugs and terror we need to be free from having any freedom isn't it obvious.

    Now think how well the WoD has been working out. If the WoT is as important as they claim I sure hope they do a better job with it than drugs. Otherwise there will be terrorist drug dealers on every corner in no time.

  • ||

    Thank you SIV et al for the reminder. I'd totally forgotten about DSHEA.

  • Travis||

    @DEE

    Thats some heavy stuff you just wrote.

  • SIV||

    "Back door" legislation is much more politically feasible, and it still undermines the drug war. Its a good start to dismantling in little by little.

    I'm all for undermining the WoD, just noting the dispensaries (at least as pictured in CA) are not the best thing to arouse sympathy with mainstream voters.

    Oh, and DSHEA passed a Democratic-controlled Congress.

    The Dems have been trying to re-regulate the quackery... er...supplements ever since.

  • ||

    Don't know how many of you on here are parents, but it's amazing the collective amnesia that has set in among the former tokers of the 70s and 80s who how have kids of their own.

    We are encouraged to lie about our previous usage when our kids bring home their "Just Say No" propaganda, or at least tell them that getting high was the greatest mistake of our lives and beg for their forgiveness.

    I have been honest with my kids, telling them that smoking pot is a helluva lot of fun, much less harmful than the bottle of vodka their grandfather legally consumed every day, but that it is just not worth the shit that would come down on them if caught using today. They have expressed no desire to partake and don't run with crowds who do.

    I wonder if I had beat the "drugs are bad" drum, would they be more tempted to indulge, just as I did in response to my dad's anti-drug stance?

  • ||

    I am not a parent; I have nephews and neices, though. It completely amazes me that any parent (particularly those with personal experience to go by) could ever even come close to believing his or her children would be better off in jail than sitting on a couch/ park bench/ chairlift smoking a joint. This seems to me to be the most plausible route for a serious attack on the drug laws.

  • ||

    As a former heavy toker who's now a squeaky-clean Mormon, I'm not at all conflicted about telling my kids that getting high isn't a good idea. I'm also not hesitant to point out to my kids that this isn't a "problem" that government can fix.

    The problem with Republicans is that the party is full of people like the Mormons I know, who despite giving lip service to the free agency explicitly outlined in their scriptures, deep down think they can keep people from getting high if we're just oppressive and draconian enough. And the politicians in both parties pander to those base instincts, rather than high-mindedly (pun intended) pointing out that drug users don't quit getting high just because some politician passed a law against it, because such high-mindedness loses elections.

  • ||

    Marijuana was demonized well before the 1960s. The film "Reefer Madness" was released in 1936.

  • Tym||

    FYI, cocaine can be legally prescribed in the U.S. Heroin can't be, but there are close substitutes (e.g. morphine).

    Dilaudid is probably the closest.

  • ||

    jh,

    Off topic here, but as a "squeaky-clean Mormom" you might know: Almost daily I swerve to avoid running over squeaky clean Mormon dudes out doing their missionary bit on bikes, but where do all the squeaky clean Mormom babes do their church-mandated hustling? Those of us with chicks-on-bikes fetishes are dying to know.

  • miche||

    I have been honest with my kids, telling them that smoking pot is a helluva lot of fun, much less harmful than the bottle of vodka their grandfather legally consumed every day, but that it is just not worth the shit that would come down on them if caught using today. They have expressed no desire to partake and don't run with crowds who do.



    I'm with you on this one. I've been totally honest with my kids about my every weeked for a year experimental phase with drugs. I let them know that I had a blast but was incredibly lucky not to get busted on a possession charge because it would've ruined our lives. Of course, I was a responisble drug experimenter and I only tripped, rolled, or snorted at home and only in the company of other adults.

    Neither child does drinks or does drugs. The oldest has tried pot and ex but was smart enough to do it in the private, safe sanctuary of her apartment.

  • ||

    The reason Republicans won't stop federal raids on medical marijuana is that their base, upon hearing the word 'drugs', bury their heads in their butts and become unaware of or immune to logical thought.

    They should smoke a joint and lighten up.

  • ||

    Marijuana was demonized mostly because Mexican migrant workers liked to smoke it. Marijuana prohibtion was racist in conception.

  • Satchmo||

    Marijuana was demonized mostly because Mexican migrant workers liked to smoke it. Marijuana prohibtion was racist in conception.

    Don't forget us Negro Jazz Musicians!

  • ||

    Your article is timely and well-written! This is an appalling example of an absolutely indefensible position by Republicans who claim that they favor personal liberty, limited government, and federalism.

    Once voters in a state approve compassionate use of medical cannabis for patients, the federal government should simply get out of the way.

    Fortunately there are some Republicans who understand the principles involved -- but when it comes to medical cannabis, too many of them are stubbornly opposed to the basic concepts underlying the role of government in a free society.

    Manny Klausner
    Co-Founder, Reason Foundation

  • kyle||

    How could you ignore Ron Paul's position on this issue? Ron Paul is the only candidate who is a strict constitutionalist. And his record proves it!
    rEVOLution!

  • Ventifact||

    It is especially disgusting when the question of efficacy is raised.

    Heh! Now let's not get into that! As if these houses of cards were not collapsing already..

  • Vent||

    Oops; must learn to use "/".

  • ||

    The Republicans aren't stupid. They know that 800,000 or so Americans are arrested annually because of their liberal views on marijuana. They also know that every arrest that culminates in a felony conviction represents one less liberal voter in the voter pool. They aren't waging war on marijuana....they're waging war on us. WAKE UP!!!!

  • قبلة الوداع||

    thank u

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