Pubdate: Wed, 15 Dec 2010
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2010 Metro Times, Inc
Author: Larry Gabriel
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Michigan)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United States)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)


Can Conservatives and Liberals Agree on Legalizing Weed?

Could medical marijuana be the issue that brings us all together? I'm 
not talking about everybody sitting in a circle, passing a joint 
around and swaying back and forth to Michael Franti tunes -- although 
that wouldn't hurt anything either. I'm talking bipartisan politics. 
Something almost all politicians talk about but toss into the trash 
the minute anybody actually tries to get something done.

Rabid partisanship has dogged our political process pretty much since 
the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964. The issue of drugs and 
marijuana has played into that since Richard Nixon used it 
successfully as part of his core platform in his 1972 re-election 
bid. Neither side wants a soft-on-drugs image, but the liberal wing 
of the Democratic Party has pushed its politicians further on medical 

"The party that tends to be more responsive on the issue of medical 
cannabis has been the Democrats," says Alan St. Pierre, director of 
the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 
Washington, D.C. "Democrats, generally speaking, have been more 
supportive than Republicans. But to get anything done there has to be 
two to tango. When Republicans do cross the aisle they are generally 
the libertarian, pro-business types rather than the moral holy 
rollers. Regarding out-and-out legalization, neither party takes this 
with any degree of seriousness and urgency."

This is still the case in most instances. And as a Republican 
administration prepares to take over in Lansing, there is real 
concern among medical marijuana activists that it will be unfriendly 
toward their cause. That could happen, but one activist doesn't see it.

"The Democratic Party is pretty solid as far as following the will of 
the people," says medical marijuana activist Tim Beck. "As far as 
Republicans are concerned, we've gotten the same signals. For 
instance James Bolger [a southwest Michigan state representative] is 
a Rick Snyder Republican. His focus is on the economy; his focus is 
on jobs. There are also some libertarian Republicans. They know 
fighting medical marijuana does not need to be a major focus. There 
isn't going to be a big push to see this overhauled as much as 
[Oakland County Executive] L. Brooks Patterson and [Oakland County 
Sheriff] Mike Bouchard would like to see."

Indeed Oakland County has pushed the pedal to the metal in 
confronting medical marijuana facilities in busting two alleged 
dispensaries -- and indicting 16 people connected to them. While 
Michigan law allows for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, it 
does not address distribution outside of the patient-caregiver 
relationship. Those trials and a suit by the ACLU in support of 
medical marijuana patients against ordinances that essentially 
prohibit the use of medical marijuana in Livonia, Birmingham and 
Bloomfield Hills should go a long way in defining what will and won't 
be allowed in Michigan.

Other than litigation, the only way to further define how the 
Michigan Medical Marihuana Act works is with a three-quarters 
majority vote in the state Legislature. Voters passed the MMMA by a 
63 percent average across Michigan, but a look at conservative Ottawa 
County illustrates the act's bipartisan support. In 2008, straight 
party ticket voters favored Republicans 72 percent to 27 percent, and 
John McCain won the county with 51 percent of the vote to 37 percent 
for Obama; yet the MMMA passed 50.55 percent to 49.45 percent.

"The ballot proposition did pass here in Ottawa County," says 
attorney Dan Martin in interpreting those results. "Support for the 
law is not a Republican-Democrat split. There had to be a number of 
Republicans in Ottawa County who voted for it. Otherwise it couldn't 
have passed in our county."

Martin, an attorney for the Scholten Fant law firm in Grand Haven, 
addressed a crowd of 100 mostly west Michigan local government 
representatives at the Allendale Township Hall. Martin played Peter 
Tosh's reggae classic "Legalize It" and advised the leaders in the 
audience they could be sued if they ban all medical marijuana. 
"Lawful uses are permitted," he said.

It's not just the Republican voters who have lightened up about 
marijuana. Over the years, some heavy national conservatives have 
come out in support of legalizing marijuana, or at least downsizing 
the costly drug war, such as Ron Paul and the late William F. Buckley 
Jr. and Milton Friedman.

In a 2004 column in the National Review, Buckley opined:

An estimated 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least 
once, the great majority, abandoning its use after a few highs. But 
to stop using it does not close off its availability. A Boston 
commentator observed years ago that it is easier for an 18-year old 
to get marijuana in Cambridge than to get beer. Vendors who sell beer 
to minors can forfeit their valuable licenses. It requires less 
effort for the college student to find marijuana than for a sailor to 
find a brothel.

Even Sarah Palin, the darling of the conservative right, in June 
said, "If somebody's going to smoke a joint in their house and not do 
anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should 
be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other 
problems we have in society."

Closer to home, The Detroit News, with its traditionally conservative 
philosophy, published a column a few weeks ago in which editorial 
page editor Nolan Finley called for the legalization of marijuana so 
it could be taxed and regulated. Wrote Finley:

Critics of medical marijuana have called it the first step toward 
legalizing all pot use. They're right. And it should be. It's absurd 
for Michigan to still be arresting and jailing pot growers and users 
whose only real crime is that they were too stupid to apply for a 
medical marijuana certificate.

Indeed marijuana has generated a class of Republicans who find 
something they actually want to tax. Now that's some bipartisan spirit.

Medical marijuana's strongest opponents, most observers would agree, 
have been law enforcement, some prosecutors, the drug treatment 
industry and the social conservatives of the Republican Party. Law 
enforcement faces a major quandary. Most of its members have been 
trained in a drug war mentality and from their point of view the law 
is unclear. They don't quite know what to do. Also, law enforcement 
agencies stand to lose drug war money from the federal government as 
well as money from property forfeitures if marijuana were legalized.

However, their job is to enforce the law, and when the law is clearly 
defined there will be only one recourse -- follow it.

If support for medical marijuana can bring ideologues from both sides 
of the aisle together, maybe there is hope for other areas of 
politics. But then maybe it's just the fact that diseases such as 
arthritis, cancer and MS don't have political affiliations, and you 
don't need red or blue lenses to see the relief marijuana can bring.

On the political tip, we should get our representatives together to 
smoke a couple of fat joints, hold hands and sing "Legalize It."

Peter Tosh was onto something with the lyric "and I will advertise 
it." Indeed, there is money to be made.  
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake