Marijuana legalization is gaining favorable steam on across America's political right. Will it continue?
Noted conservative commenter, author, and blogger Michelle Malkin made headlines recently when she penned an article describing why she — once a strong supporter of the government’s war on drugs — now supports medical marijuana legalization.
While marijuana legislation still has a long way to go in the United States, stories like Malkin’s, as well as the overall shift in Republicans’ views toward the drug, offer a clue as to the future of marijuana legalization in this country.
Canna-support grows on the Right
As Vice recently pointed out, Republicans might not be the first group you think of when it comes to those openly supporting legalization, but according to new research by YouGov, the number of GOP members who support it is now higher than the number of those who don’t.
While only 28 percent of Republicans were in favor of legalization in January 2014, the latest YouGov poll shows that 45 percent now support it, compared to 42 percent who are opposed — a shift that’s unprecedented in U.S. history. Even more Republicans — 54 percent — think the government’s efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they’re worth.
*Since this article first published, a new Gallup poll showed a majority (for the first time ever) of Republicans favor legalization.
How has this shift happened?
Medical success stories are changing minds
In Malkin’s case, a neurologist suggested that she try cannabidiol oil to treat her daughter’s epilepsy. CBD, one of hundreds of chemical components found in cannabis plants, is non-hallucinogenic and nonaddictive, and was far more effective in helping Malkin’s daughter than other medications she had been prescribed previously. There was a catch, however.
“This doctor had other young patients who used CBD oil with positive results, but she could not directly prescribe it because of her hospital affiliation,” says Malkin. “So we did our own independent research, talked to a Colorado Springs family whose son had great success using CBD to treat his Crohn's disease symptoms, consulted with other medical professionals and friends — and entered a whole new world.”
Malkin found two doctors who signed off on her daughter’s application for a medical marijuana card. With that, her daughter became one of more than 360 children under 18 years of age to join Colorado's medical marijuana registry in 2015. She says “it flies in the face of current science to classify CBD oil as a Schedule I drug, as the feds did at the end of 2016.” She also thinks it makes no sense to block access to CBD if some patients and doctors believe that the benefits of using THC therapeutically outweigh the potential harm.
“Our experience showed us the importance of increasing therapeutic choices in the marketplace for all families — and trusting doctors and patients to figure out what works best,” she says.
Cannabis as a weapon to combat the opioid epidemic
But Malkin isn’t the only notable conservative who’s has a change of heart concerning marijuana legalization.
Three years ago, South Carolina lawmakers passed strict legislation allowing patients with severe epilepsy, or their caregivers, to legally possess CBD. Marine veteran and South Carolina Rep. Eric Bedingfield voted against it.
Later, however, after his eldest son’s six-year battle with opioid addiction ended with a overdose, Bedingfield changed course and co-sponsored medical cannabis legislation. He is now optimistic that medical marijuana can replace opioid painkillers, helping curb an epidemic he's seen destroy families of all economic levels — including his own.
"My mindset has changed from somebody who looked down on it as a negative substance to saying, 'This has benefits,'" Bedingfield said recently.
Unlikely D.C. cannabis advocates
Also recognizing marijuana’s benefits is Bedingfield’s fellow South Carolinian, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham has been one of the biggest backers of the CARERS Act — aka the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act of 2015 — which, if passed, would do a number of things, including reclassifying marijuana to maximize its medical value, allow banks to handle money from legal marijuana businesses, and prevent the government from interfering with state-legal medical marijuana programs.
“I am open-minded to the idea that the plant may have medical attributes that could help people,” Graham told Politico. “I’m convinced that we should, as a nation, research the medical applications of the marijuana plant. It could be life-changing. I just want to do it in a scientific way…and the current system doesn't allow for the research that we need.”
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has also become a canna-advocate as 2017 progressed.
If Lindsay Graham and Orrin Hatch, both stalwart conservatives, think further research into medical marijuana is needed, it can be safely assumed that real change is around the corner.
As Malkin says, “Let the scientists lead. Limited government is the best medicine.”
Marijuana legalization is gaining new friends...fast.