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Will Conservatives Get Behind Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative?

Updated: Apr 13

OK, that's probably not the message the medical marijuana people hope to get across.

Many things happened while I was out (some fairly important things, I guess, like this and this). But one recent development worth catching up on is the approval of 2012 ballot language for a medical marijuana initiative in Arkansas. I talked a few days ago with the director of the initiative, Ryan Denham of Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACA), and I’m increasingly convinced this issue is ripe for broad-based support.

Here, let’s take one example: The campaign’s field director in Texarkana is a fellow by the name of Dwayne Hall, a 47-year-old insurance  adjuster who’s been active in both Republican politics and the Tea Party, along with various other right-leaning causes (he’s a big Ron Paul fan). He jokes that he’s a “radical” right-winger.

I talked to Hall this morning, and he said his support for the medical marijuana initiative boils down to basic libertarian principles: “People should have a right to do what they want with their own bodies, and the government should have nothing to do with it,” he explained. He also likened the ACC effort to the grassroots mobilization of the Tea Party movement in the last election cycle, which he said was about “educating the populace about the issues” and “reaching way out of your own base.”

Likewise, Denham, the campaign director, emphasized coalition building. He mentioned outreach to younger voters and patient advocacy groups, which would be expected, but also veterans, the faith community, physicians and, yes, conservatives and libertarians.

While the principal thrust of the medical marijuana campaign is to focus on patients, Denham recognizes that others may support the campaign for other reasons, such as a commitment to federalism and limited government.

“For the Tea Party, conservatives and libertarians, they want the federal government out of our lives,” Denham says. “They want the federal government to stop wasting so much money enforcing this law. They believe in states’ rights, and this is definitely a states’ right issue. But I think most of the Tea Party people we have on board just know about the merits of medical marijuana.”

Let’s not make too much of this yet—yet. I have no expectation that the Republican Party as an organization, or many elected GOP officials, will support the initiative. And remember that the “Tea Party” is an amorphous thing, and what support the medical marijuana campaign pulls from that quarter will likely result from individual motivations, rather than an endorsement by Tea Party organizations in toto.

But keep an eye out for right-leaning people who get behind the medical marijuana campaign, because they’ll be there, and probably in larger numbers than you might at first expect in a conservative southern state. The key point, I suspect, is this is an issue that scrambles traditional political categories.

A sidenote: the University of Arkansas polled on this question in 2001 and 2004, and both times the responses showed over 60 percent approval for medical marijuana in Arkansas. (I looked for a more recent statewide survey on the question; so far I’ve come up dry. If you know of more recent data, let me know in the comments.)

I plan to write about this issue at greater length in the future, where I’ll expand on these ideas, but for now just be aware of that intriguing dynamic—it will be significant.

Now, readers, please retreat to the comments section to a) decry Kinkade’s alarming strain of libertarian hippie-ism and b) make a bunch of terrible marijuana puns (“Thanks for giving us the straight DOPE, Dave!,” “Man, I can’t wait to WEED more about this!,” etc.). Eh, you guys and your puns, you’re the worst. Get to it now, chop chop.

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