My name is Hunter James White, and I am the Communications Director of the national Republican political organization, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP. We are a Non-Profit 501-c3 organization dedicated to the complete repeal of marijuana prohibition in all its forms. In this series of articles, my goal is simple: to share my challenges, experiences, and insights which I have gained from years of working to bring marijuana policy reform to the Republican Party.
For many in the United States, the Republican party seems like the last organization that would embrace pro-marijuana values. In the past decade, Republicans have become better known for their socially conservative views, faux-fiscal conservativism, and “tough on crime” stance toward criminal justice reform. However, these brief summarizations do not represent the intricate political, ideological, and philosophical beliefs that are covered under the broad tent of the Republican party. The Republican party is stitched together from numerous political ideologies, including Libertarians, Evangelicals, anarcho-capitalists, and moderates.
I happen to be a more Libertarian Republican, a rarity in the modern party, and it is with this ideological background that I came to RAMP. My home state is Texas, “The Lone Star State,” known for its love of guns, hatred of all things federal, and paradoxical relationship with the concept of liberty. In 2014, I graduated college and was in the process of applying to law school. I had been a supporter of marijuana reform since I smoked my first “joint” and realized that everything the government had told me about this plant was a lie. Unfortunately, Texas is not cannabis country. When I first joined RAMP, Texas did not have any form of medical marijuana program, we arrested 72,000 people a year for simple possession, and marijuana was still viewed as a taboo subject for “real” political discourse.
Soon after joining RAMP, I realized that for many, the idea of Republicans advocating for marijuana reform was unfathomable. Yet through my years of work, I have found that a pro-marijuana reform stance is a far more common belief among Republicans than one would expect.
Breaking into Conservative Conversation
When I began, Republicans throughout the local and state GOP were completely opposed to the idea of marijuana reform. Frequently, conservatives would parrot Nancy Reagan’s infamous anti-drug slogan “just say no” to avoid engaging in critical discourse about marijuana reform. Many Republicans viewed marijuana reform as a taboo issue; something only spoken of by “liberals.” Some conservatives also feared the unknown, and many had never had any personal experiences with marijuana other than viewing anti-drug propaganda films, such as 'Reefer Madness.' These individuals only knew that the “liberal mecca” of California legalized medical marijuana, and everything with which California agreed was antithetical to American values.
Even today, social conservatives remain the largest impediment to the Republican Party embracing effective marijuana reform. However, over the years I learned how to speak the language of conservatives, and craft arguments that would resonate with their beliefs. I was not alone, of course. A few brave, trailblazing politicians also took up the cause. In east Texas, the evangelical state representative, David Simpson, declared that marijuana was a miracle of God. That dreaded source of #FakeNews, CNN, opened eyes with Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s insightful perspective concerning the varied medical benefits of the marijuana strain, Charlotte’s Web.
Despite this progress, resistance to marijuana reform among Republicans continues to persist. Aging Republicans are still haunted by Nancy Reagan’s ghost, evangelicals declare that drugs are the tools of Satan, and social conservatives still proffer dire predictions of societal collapse should marijuana be made legal. Countless people have told me that advocating for marijuana reform is “unamerican” and “dangerous,” yet reality continues to prove these people wrong.
Growing Support, and Disregarded Voice
After three years of working to bring the marijuana reform message to the GOP, I have been given lots of hope and lots of disappointment. Our organization has expanded into 11 states, our membership comprises thousands of Republicans across the political spectrum, and our state organizations’ efforts have led to tangible reform to multiple state GOP policy platforms. However, our efforts typically go unrewarded and unnoticed by Republican leadership at both the state and federal level.
Our state leaders are far too concerned with fringe social issues of the day like discriminatory “bathroom bills,” fears about nonexistent “crime waves,” and disingenuous support for “religious freedom.” At the federal level, our leaders are too concerned with figuring out how to make good on their promises to strip healthcare from millions of individuals, or waste billions on senseless, symbolic victories like building a wall. Even with two branches of government under firm Republican control and a political ideology that purports to support individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and limited government, our federal representatives continue to ignore the issue of marijuana reform.
I am a Republican Against Marijuana Prohibition, and these are my stories. Some are tales of insight and success, whereas others are tales of disappointment and tragedy. However, all of these stories are my real-life challenges and experiences in introducing the issue of marijuana reform to the GOP. Hopefully sharing these stories will spark more conversation among conservatives and between parties.