Avi Mediratta is a Senior and VPR's Editor-in-Chief. He is from Orlando, FL and is majoring in Economics and Human and Organizational Development. His political interests include education policy, labor and employment, and international relations. He also enjoys chocolate milk.
One of the biggest issues in modern politics is the legalization of marijuana. Around the world, more and more countries are seeing pot legalization become a mainstream political issue. In the Netherlands, the drug policy known as gedoogbeleid has effectively decriminalized marijuana use, making Amsterdam a popular destination for weed connoisseurs. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal majority have been discussing legalization for some months now. Uruguay is one of the few places in the world where the sale, purchase, possession, and cultivation of cannabis are all completely legal. Here in the US, President Obama has stated that the federal government will not enforce laws against marijuana, and that marijuana enforcement will be left at the states’ discretion. Because of this, marijuana is completely legal in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, and the District of Columbia. It is legal for medical use in many more states.
Despite the scale seeming to tip in favor of legalization, marijuana is still a very partisan issue. The Democratic Party is in favor of legalization wile the GOP is not. This does not, however, fully reflect the complexity of public opinion in the United States. There are a significant number of Republicans who favor legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Jason Vaughn, a Republican activist for legalization in Texas and the leader of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), says that he always supported cannabis, but he was quiet about it because he didn’t want it to mess up his career as a pro-life activist. Soon, though, he realized that it is not abnormal for a Republican to support legalization. Actually, a recent Pew Research survey shows that 63% of Republican millennials want to legalize it.
In the Republican debates, some candidates have come out in support of legalization. These candidates include Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina. The reasoning behind veering away from the party platform is simple; these candidates want to appeal to millennials. Also, these Republican candidates claim that the federal government should not interfere in the laws that state governments have already passed. States’ rights are a big reason these candidates did not come off as being against cannabis.
Though perhaps Republicans and Democrats support freeing the herb for different reasons, the point is that the Republican Party is not entirely unified in their opposition to it. In Texas, there is actually a great divide on the issue. Though very few Democrats have ever won state office in Texas, Republicans still have a hard time compromising with each other. There are certain Texan politicians who stick to the party line and oppose cannabis, but others, perhaps the more Libertarian-leaning ones, support it. This is where RAMP got started. Many Texas politicians are open-minded to supporting recreational use of the plant. It’s not easy to go against the party, though, so it will likely take a while for Republican marijuana advocates to become a potent political force in the Lone Star State.
There are many morals to this story. Firstly, politics is not so straightforward, not even in this age of increasing polarization. Unifying people to agree with every aspect of a party’s platform is often quite difficult. Parties can try all they want to appeal to everyone, but somebody is always going to make a fuss. Secondly, the Republican Party is drastically changing. With more young people wanting to let America blaze it, the party may soon have to alter its platform against marijuana. The cannabis issue shows a growing split within the party between the Old Guard conservatives championing religious, community, and family values and the younger ones who are more interested in individual freedoms and limited government. The latter’s inevitable takeover will no doubt cause a momentous change in the party’s ideology. Political parties are constantly changing, but we may be in the middle of one of the greatest ideological shifts in American history. Thirdly, marijuana will be legalized in the United States. It is still a contentious issue right now, and voters certainly have different views on it, but this seems to be the road down which we are headed. Whether or not this is the right thing for America is definitely up for debate, though. There are valid arguments on both sides, but the eventual end to marijuana prohibition will soon be upon us one way or another.