It’ll come as a surprise to most, but Republicans try marijuana at a higher rate than Democrats. A Gallup poll found that 33% of Republicans have tried America’s favorite (and safest) illicit drug while a slightly lower 31% of Democrats have inhaled the celebrated herb.
Thinking back, I remember when it was learned that House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman and other Republicans had enjoyed marijuana in their pasts, and I recall the 2002 Republican congressional page scandal in which eleven pot smoker pages sponsored by Republican House members were dismissed subsequent to the discovery of marijuana in their Capitol Hill dormitory. I guess I should have put two and two together.
Politically speaking, the obvious question is “Why doesn’t this translate into more Republican support for marijuana decriminalization or legalization?” Only 21% of Republicans want the herb legalized while 37% of Democrats do. Do Republicans experience different effects? Do they feel guilty after imbibing?
Maybe we just need more Republicans to bring their views on marijuana laws out of the closet. Take Gary Johnson for instance. The former Republican governor of New Mexico supported the legalization of marijuana in a very public way when he was in office, in fact, he was eager to make it part of his legacy. He also wanted people to understand that he didn’t just “experiment” with the weed: “In running for office during my first term, I offered up the fact that I smoked marijuana. And the media was very quick to say, ‘Oh, so you experimented with marijuana’…No, I smoked marijuana. This is something that I did. I did it along with a lot of other people. But me and my buddies, you know…we enjoyed what we were doing,” said Johnson in 1999.
Of course, there’s another high-profile Republican not shying away from telling people marijuana should be legal -- Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX) who has served in Congress for almost 20 years. And, heck, he just recently set the GOP’s one-day fundraising record of $4.3 million. Hmmm, it sure doesn’t seem like his supporters are afraid of his marijuana legalization spiel.
George Shultz, former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, also wants marijuana legalized. Almost 20 years ago, he coined an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to tell people “...We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs.”
Another of Reagan’s most trusted aides, Lyn Nofziger, who also worked for Nixon and shares responsibility for unleashing the Reagan drug war on America, joined Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) at a 2002 Capitol Hill press conference to support a federal medical marijuana bill and to push President Bush and other Republicans to get onboard. “I've become an advocate of medical marijuana…It is truly compassionate. I sincerely hope the administration can get behind this bill,” he said.
And then there are some of the Republican Party’s luminaries. Highly respected and influential ultra-conservatives like William F. Buckley, Jr. and Milton Friedman have called for marijuana legalization at least since Nixon famously visited Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai in 1972. I suppose the appropriate question is “When will the Republicans decide to take the high road to China on this one?”
Note: It is interesting and important to realize that all of the conservatives whose viewpoints on drug policy were discussed above, save Nofziger, go much further than only wanting marijuana to be legal. In fact, they have either explicitly called for all drugs to be legalized or have strongly alluded to the idea they should be.