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Meet The Republicans Who Are Fighting Marijuana Prohibition

It's easy to assume that all Republicans - apart from Rand Paul of course - are anti-marijuana legalization. If there were a prohibition hall-of-fame, former President Richard Nixon and former First Lady Nancy Reagan would be among the first inductees.

But not all conservative Americans share those views. In fact, the party has a group fighting to change hearts and minds of GOP voters: RAMP (Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition). We spoke to Hunter White - RAMP's Communications Director - to find out more about his group. Here's what he had to say.

1. Personal tragedy motivated founders of RAMP

"RAMP came from a personal tragedy that led to an awakening about what the drug war had done and the lies behind prohibition," White told Civilized.

The group's founder, lifelong Republican Ann Lee (pictured above), once had the same prohibitionist mindset as most Republicans. But when an accident left her son Richard paralyzed in 1990, she learned that marijuana could be used as medicine to help treat Richard's nerve pain. That led the Lees to re-examine why marijuana was illegal.

"Once their misconceptions were dispelled," White explained, "they felt the need to do something to reform."

Lee ultimately helped start RAMP in 2012.

2. They support medical and recreational marijuana legalization

RAMP supports legalizing medical as well as recreational use. And while they'd like to see states repeal marijuana prohibition entirely, White says they're willing to support sweeping or piecemeal reform "that helps break down the wall that prohibition has built."

3. Most Republicans want reform to marijuana laws

"Generally speaking," White told Civilized. "the need for [marijuana] reform is evident. And opposition is in the minority." In fact, a poll released last year showed most Republicans supported legalization.

But not all groups want the same sort of change, and not all are vocal about it. The most outspoken supporters of legalization, he says, tend to be younger, more Libertarian minded groups like the Republican Liberty Caucus and Tea Party groups.

But there are more reformers in the older crowd than you might think, he says, even though some still uphold Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" stance.

"There's a surprising number of people who may not be vocal, and may not seek out this kind of information, but they are receptive to it. And what helps get the message out is information on the medical properties of cannabis, such as Sanjay Gupta's work on marijuana's medical properties...They see marijuana as a medical alternative, or something to supplement the large number of pharmaceuticals that they have to take."

Meanwhile, many Republicans who don't see any value in legalization still recognize the need for reform. "Even those who are staunchly against reform are aware that it's fiscally impractical to continue the drug war," said White.

4. Fear is RAMP's biggest obstacle

Most Republicans favor change, but few like to talk about it openly, says White. "For reform-minded Republicans, the largest hurdles have to do with this fear - the fear that if you even bring up the subject of marijuana that people will think you're just a 'pinko liberal pothead.' "

And some keep quiet in fear of their political future.

"There's fear about being ostracized. There's fear that this issue will be politically toxic, that it could alienate conservative voters, that it will cause backlash from evangelical members. That even if you bring it up for medical reasons, people will question your morality."

Others want change, but they don't think it will happen due to partisanship. "Congress has disillusioned many Republicans. That dampens the desire to push for reform when it seems like not even the most obvious issue or something of common ground could get through, let alone something that can be divisive like marijuana."


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