Conservative Christian legislators really want to legalize weed in the US

Great American pastimes.
Great American pastimes.
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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More than half of US states—28—have legalized medical marijuana. Sixty percent of Americans support legalization, according to an October 2016 Gallup poll—including 42% of Republicans. Some of these cannabis supporters live in conservative states, and some are even in their state’s legislature, supporting marijuana reform measures.

In Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah—traditionally Republican locales—marijuana reform bills have been introduced for consideration in upcoming sessions. “And, it is worth noting that Republicans, who control state legislatures in most of those states, are behind the push,” writes Maureen Meehan in High Times on Jan. 16.

This month in Missouri, Jim Neely, a Republican representative and licensed physician, introduced a bill to give terminally ill patients access to medical marijuana. His daughter died of cancer in 2015, and Neely believes the drug would have helped alleviate her pain. An initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri last year didn’t make it on the November ballot. Still, Neely said that the culture seems to be receptive now, noting, “I think the timing is good.” He told Missourinet on Jan. 13 that he’s optimistic the bill will make it to the House floor, thanks to his conservative bona fides and medical professional credentials.

In Tennessee, two Republican legislators, Jeremy Faison and Steve Dickerson, a doctor, introduced a measure to legalize therapeutic weed in December. They believe it will be an economic boon to the state. The bill allows for 50 grow houses to be built, 15 of them designated for economically distressed areas.

The Tennessean reports that the marijuana measure is also part of a push by lawmakers to tackle an opioid epidemic. More opioid prescriptions are handed out than there are people in Tennessee, and marijuana is seen as a viable, non-addictive alternative for pain relief. Republican representative Ryan Williams co-sponsored a similar bill to legalize medical marijuana during the 2015 session, but it died in committee. He told The Tennessean there will be a “big push” for medical marijuana during the 2017 legislative session to address the opioid epidemic.

Marijuana has quickly turned into a non-partisan issue. Young Republicans are definitely mostly sold. According to a 2015 Pew Research survey, 63% of Republican millennials believe marijuana should be legalized. But even older conservatives are getting on board.

Ann Lee is the octogenarian founder of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). A lifelong Republican, she used to believe cannabis was a dangerous gateway drug, until her son became a paraplegic at 28-years-old, in 1990. She read about the therapeutic effects of cannabis for nerve pain and became convinced that it should be legalized. She believes prohibition flies in the face of the Republican principles of small government, fiscal responsibility, and personal liberty. Lee founded RAMP after speaking on a pro-pot panel in 2012 and discovering 60% of the speakers shared her political affiliation, but thought they were alone.

Now, she works with other Republicans against prohibition, like Jason Vaughn, a conservative, religious Texan cannabis activist. In April 2015, he wrote an essay that went viral, entitled, “A Pro-Life Defense of Marijuana Legalization.” In it, Vaughn explains, “I’ve always been a fan of limited government and personal responsibility. When I started to really consider the facts of how many Texans are jailed each year for possession it really clicked.” Vaughn links his legalization to his pro-life beliefs by arguing that criminalization leads to more crime and death, and he’s for life, after all. He told Alternet that he was inspired by Texas Republican representative David Simpson, who has long opposed marijuana prohibition, and who introduced a radical reform bill to end the war on weed in Texas in 2015, which was defeated by his colleagues in May of that year.

Simpson’s angle is unique in cannabis advocacy. In an op-ed titled ”The Christian case for drug law reform,” he wrote, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.” Simpson doesn’t believe in banning any plants, and in fact is against prohibitions generally, at least not on anything but violence. ”The Bible warns about excessive drinking, eating and sleeping (Proverbs 23:21), but it doesn’t ban the activities or the substances or conditions associated with them—alcohol, food and fatigue,” Simpson noted. “Elsewhere, feasting and wine are recognized as blessings from God. Scripture stresses respect for our neighbor’s liberty and conscience, moderation for all and abstinence for some.”