By David Burton
In the wake of the White House’s policy reversal on medical cannabis, a lot of marijuana proponents are considering casting their votes for a presidential candidate friendlier to the cause. But, when you’re thinking about buying something as hugely important as the Leader of the Free World, it’s always a good idea to shop around and weigh your options carefully. Here to help you make an informed choice next November is a quick voter guide for the 2012 Republican presidential candidates:
At press time, former Massachusetts governor and on-again/off-again presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney is on record as being not in favor of medical marijuana being legal. He’s so not in favor of it that, when asked his position on the matter by a wheelchair-bound muscular dystrophy patient at an October 2007 event, Romney replied, “I’m not in favor of medical marijuana being legal”–and immediately turned away as if the patient no longer existed. The episode was captured for posterity in a now-famous YouTube video. But take heart: As noted in the October issue of Rolling Stone, Romney is notoriously flexible on his positions, having flip-flopped on such issues as abortion, America’s involvement in Libya and climate change. So, there’s always hope.
When he was but a congressman from Georgia, Newt Gingrich penned a 1982 letter to the American Medical Association in support of access to medical marijuana. As Speaker of the House, Gingrich introduced the Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996, which would have set a mandatory sentence of death for anyone convicted a second time of bringing large quantities of illegal drugs into the U.S. As candidate for president, he flat-out claimed legalizing cannabis would bring about the end of civilization. On a March 2009 episode of The O’Reilly Factor, Gingrich said America’s drug-testing laws should be patterned after those in Singapore, where anyone who tests positive for drugs is automatically imprisoned in state-run rehab centers, and where convicted drug dealers are routinely hanged. ’Nuff said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry would seem an unlikely supporter of medical marijuana freedoms. A hardcore social conservative, he vetoed legislation that would have banned the death penalty for mentally retarded inmates and stood quietly by as Texas executed 234 prisoners–more than in any other state in the union. Despite that pedigree, Perry does appear to support a state’s right to legalize medical pot, writing in a 2010 book that the 10th Amendment allows such action. Even more surprisingly, he’s actually used his power as governor to help soften the Lone Star State’s ferocious stance on marijuana: In 2007, he signed into law a bill ending automatic arrest for simple pot possession. Go figure.
Perhaps the single most popular GOP presidential candidate among cannabis fans, Texas congressman Ron Paul has a long and well-documented history of opposing drug prohibition. He’s also the only pro-legalization candidate with at least a ghost of a chance at winning the nomination. A Libertarian presently masquerading in Republican clothing, Paul championed the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 2008, which would have provided federal protections to qualified cannabis patients, and the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008, which would have legalized possession of up to 3.5 ounces of weed. Both bills failed. Something to consider: Along with drug prohibition, Paul also opposes abortion, U.S. membership in the United Nations and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party darling Michelle Bachmann has thus far managed to avoid taking a position on the controversial subject of medical cannabis. When, according to the Des Moines Register, she was asked at a November campaign event at Iowa’s Drake University whether she believed medical marijuana was a states’ rights issue, she replied that she didn’t know and hadn’t “thought it through.” While we’re left largely in the dark on Bachmann compassionate-use stance, her voting record in Congress may offer a clue: She voted against 2007’s House Amendment 674, which would have prevented federal funds from being used to block medical marijuana programs in the states.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum readily admits he smoked his share of cannabis in his youth–he just doesn’t want anyone else smoking their share. At the Ames Straw Poll in August, Santorum declared that recognizing a state’s right to legalize medical marijuana “would be an activity that is not consistent with American values.” He later attacked fellow presidential candidate Rick Perry for suggesting compassionate use was a states’ rights issue. In the March issue of National Review, Santorum insisted his pot-smoking past doesn’t mean he’s now being hypocritical on the subject because “it’s not hypocrisy, as long as you don’t say, ‘I thought it was right, and think it was wrong.” Merriam-Webster defines hypocrisy as “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” You decide.
Of all the declared Republican candidates for president, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson may be the least likely to win the nomination–he’s pro-gun control, anti-death penalty and a moderate on abortion. But if you’re a believer in medical marijuana, he’s certainly earned some consideration. Johnson has advocated for cannabis legalization since 1999, and has been using pot medicinally for back pain since at least 2005. He promises that, if elected president, he will issue pardons to anyone convicted of nonviolent marijuana crimes. More substantively, his enlightened stance on cannabis as governor helped pave the way for New Mexico to pass its hugely popular medical marijuana program.
Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Many cannabis activists found themselves all aglow after watching the June 21 YouTube clip of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. saying he believes the states should decide the legality of medical marijuana. But look closer: Huntsman’s remark, uttered hours after he announced his candidacy, remains his only remark on the issue. In his four years as chief executive of Utah, Huntsman did nothing– absolutely nothing–to suggest support or even benign tolerance of compassionate-use programs. Medical marijuana remains as illegal as marijuana itself in the Beehive State, where possession of as little as a half-gram can land you six months in jail.
Anthony Robert Martin-Trigona, otherwise known as perennial candidate Andy Martin, not only supports medical cannabis but calls the War on Drugs a “joke and disaster” and believes drug abuse is a public health problem rather than a criminal justice problem. He also believes President Obama is the foreign-born, illegitimate Muslim son of journalist Frank Marshall Davis and that “Jew survivors” of the Holocaust are out to steal his property. The New York Times noted that in a 1983 court filing, Martin called the judge in a bankruptcy case “a crooked, slimy Jew who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race.” Seriously.Fred Karger*
Described as the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major party in American history, Fred Karger is one of those long-shot contenders who does quite well in small settings. Political observers sat up and took notice when the guitar-strummin‘, pro-medical-cannabis hummin‘ Karger defeated top-tier candidate Mitt Romney at New Hampshire’s St Anselm College Republican Straw Poll in March. But in larger settings, such as statewide polling and such, the political consultant and former actor is considered the second most unelectable GOP candidate, after Andy “I hate the Jews” Martin. Karger is a longtime supporter of medical cannabis, lowering the voting age and gay rights–in July, he called fellow candidate Michelle Bachmann “a liar, hypocrite and bigot” for her anti-gay remarks.
Say what you want about James “Jimmy” McMillan, the political activist and karate expert is hands-down the most entertaining of the GOP presidential contenders. Not only does McMillan readily admit to everyone who cares that he uses pot, he admits it in a way that’s impossible to ignore. “Oh, hell yeah! I was a pot-smoking motherfucker!” he proudly declares in a documentary about his New York political group–the “Rent is 2 Damn High” Party. A photo in Think Magazine shows the Vietnam veteran dining on a fruit cup outside one of his reportedly favorite haunts–a Manhattan bong shop. In the same issue, he said he’s been drinking marijuana tea for 40 years. While McMillan is generally considered something of a political joke (he also publicly admits to really, really liking porn), his unapologetic attitude toward marijuana could make it that much easier for other, more serious candidates, to publicly broach the once-taboo subject.
The world’s most famous pizza man dodged questions on medical marijuana all the way up to Oct. 15, when he said at a campaign stop in Iowa that it was an issue best left to the states. That single comment instantly raised Cain’s respectability levels in the eyes of many activists. While some critics have accused the former Godfather’s CEO of insincerity on the issue, he has been fairly consistent in claiming drug policy should devolve to the states. In a May 25 interview in The Atlantic, he said states should take the lead in stopping the flow of drugs from Mexico.
Article from Culture Magazine and republished with special permission