With America appearing more fractured then ever politically, many commentators note that marijuana reform appears to be one of the few issues that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. However, these days it appears that "bipartisan" has become a toxic word. But until we realize that working together is the best way to develop sensible cannabis policy, we will not see meaningful marijuana reform.
In my experience pushing for reform in the Republican heartland of Texas, I have seen first-hand just how toxic this political divide has become. Many Republicans have hardened their positions against anything perceived as “liberal.” This knee-jerk reaction has a toxic effect on trying to bring up any issue that is bipartisan.
The number of times I have been told by my fellow party members that they cannot support marijuana reform because a bill was introduced or co-sponsored by Democrats, or because Democrats support the issue at all, is staggering. This issue is further compounded during elections. Many of the most committed marijuana activists I know continue to vote for the same Governor, Lt. Governor, Senator or Representative who has obstructed marijuana reform because they cannot imagine voting for anyone else.
The political system is not supposed to be a game. It is not about whose team wins. It is about electing effective, rational leaders who can deliver a stable, prosperous state. Sometimes your opponent has the better idea, or the better policy. Just because an idea is introduced by someone in a different party, doesn’t mean the underlying idea isn’t good. Bipartisanship is what built America.
Divide and Be Conquered
What is more sinister then the irrational tribalism of those who look at bipartisanship as a dirty word, is those who specifically stoke the coals of division. In my line of work, a number of people have come to me offering advice on how to bring the issue of marijuana to the hearts of the Republican faithful. A number of those who have offered their wisdom have taken the opportunity to call for division.
Many have told me that the only way to bring the issue of marijuana reform to Republicans is to ignore the fundamentally racist past and present of the drug war because racism isn’t real, or part of the issue. The Republican party, the party that freed the slaves, the party of Lincoln, and the party that gave us equal protection should not turn away from its radical history and roots. It is a fact that marijuana was made illegal for racist reasons, and it is also a fact that marijuana laws are disproportionally enforced against people of color. These facts should not be swept under the rug, especially by the party which was birthed during a push for equality.
Others have told me that it would be profitable to paint Democrats as the sole obstruction to marijuana reform in states, and in the federal government. This kind of blanket generalization is untrue, and unproductive. The majority of states that have medical marijuana are and have been controlled by Democrats. It is also a fact that all of the states lacking any kind of marijuana reform are controlled, and have been controlled by Republicans. Yet that does not mean Republicans have not brought reform: a number of recreational and medical states are controlled by republicans, and have been passed under Republican leadership. Further, in some states such as Rhode Island, Democrats are the ones obstructing marijuana reform.
The federal government, under the control of both Republicans and Democrats, has done nothing to meaningfully reform the federal law. Bills introduced by notable Republicans and Democrats have all failed, even when their party controls the House and/or Senate. No one party is to blame.
Shared Blame, Shared Fight
In the fight for marijuana reform, seeking to divide people across party lines is irrational, counterproductive, and corrosive to the very fabric of the cause. No one party is to blame for the lack of reform, no one person is either. We, as a population, are responsible. We have failed to prevent the breakdown in civility between our peers. We have demonized and made strawmen out of each other. We have willfully overlooked, ignored or disregarded our peers' beliefs without critically examining our own. We have turned politics into an all-or-nothing game, where only one party wins, and everyone loses.
Until we learn to work together, to critically examine each other’s position, and to compromise, we will continue to be divided and easily controlled. Only by embracing where our political ideologies align can we bring about meaningful and much-needed reform. I will not allow my political affiliation to be used as means to obstruct people seeking reform, and neither should anyone else.
I am reminded of our nation’s first and only true motto “E pluribus unum” or “Out of many, One.” While we all may have many different political beliefs, we must come together as one to seek reform.
Hunter J. White is the Communications Director of the national Republican political organization, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP, a Non-Profit 501-c3 organization dedicated to the complete repeal of marijuana prohibition in all its forms. In this series of articles, Hunter shares the challenges, experiences, and insights that he has gained from years of working to bring marijuana policy reform to the Republican Party.