This is a long and complex question, which we’ll try and answer simply. We all know the typical story: liberal-minded and living on the East or West Coast of the US equals pro-cannabis legalization; conservative and living in the Bible Belt or the middle of the US equals anti-cannabis legalization. In a way, although simplistic, this is somewhat true. The West Coast has legalized cannabis, whereas the East Coast has many states where medical marijuana programmes operate.
However, there has been a bit of a “domino effect” going on throughout the US, with even traditionally conservative, “law and order” southern states like Arizona starting to legalize cannabis for medical use. Some states like Colorado, where there is quite an even split between Democrat and Republican voters, have legalized cannabis for recreational use.
So what precisely is going on here? Are conservatives turning into hippies? Or are we seeing something rather more special: cannabis bringing people together for a common cause – the freedom to take the medicine you want to take?
Amusing as it would be, we don’t think the mass hippy transformation is happening, however, marijuana legalization is an issue that cuts across the usual left vs. right politics. Both sides have their law-and-order type authoritarians and their more libertarian-leaning anti-state types. Indeed, if you look closely at the opposing parties you will see that there are several areas where typical left vs. right politics breakdown, and the War on Drugs is one of them. (See also William F. Buckley’s stance on land, Ivan Illich on schooling or Murray Rothbard’s journal.)
Many US citizens pride themselves on notions such as freedom, individual choice and free markets – it should perhaps be no surprise that many have started to vote against arbitrary laws that prevent them from inhaling smoke, resulting from the burning of the green stuff. Another consideration is that cannabis is a massive industry, and shutting down enterprise is a decidedly un-American thing to do. Arresting people for a personal choice that harms no one else must also grate on some nerves.
There is another factor to consider: people are getting older. The US is an ageing demographic (like most developed nations), and many of them start suffering from the sorts of conditions that usually come with old age. In this scenario, people are often prescribed highly addictive opioids to manage the pain they are in, which can lead to a significantly reduced quality of life and an essentially “zombified” state of being. Cannabis can provide seniors with much needed relief from these ailments, and if the biggest block of voters around (seniors) are keen on it, they will vote for it.
The other important factor to consider is the amount of scientific research coming out showing that cannabis could indeed be medicine for some people. Denying a dying child from medicine that could kill their cancer or an epileptic a substance that lowers the number of seizures they suffer from, is extremely unethical in most reasonable people’s eyes. Furthermore, arresting a parent trying to save their child’s life leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, no matter what political stripe they adhere to.
Of course, not all the states in the US have legalized cannabis recreationally or medically, and even the states that have massive discrepancies from city-to-city, county-to-county. You will find that there’s one area full of dispensaries and growers, and another completely free from them due to the locals not wanting them anywhere near their neighbourhoods. Cannabis seems to be less of a partisan issue nowadays, and more an issue on a cultural level.
Decisions about whether people from a particular area will accept cannabis being grown in their backyard will come down to local politics rather than state or even federal laws. We are already seeing this today, as one jurisdiction will make growing and trading cannabis an arrestable offence and in another jurisdiction, the cannabis industry will be welcomed with open arms. The fight for a federally legalized cannabis starts here on this local level, and this is where it will be won.