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Why Do Right Wing Politicians Support Marijuana Reform in the U.S. and in Britain?

There has been a great deal of debate, particularly in both the U.S. and Britain over the past year as “conservative” or right-leaning politicians with different agendas begin to line up in greater numbers behind marijuana reform.
The question of why this is starting to happen is an intriguing one.

More conservative politicians, like the voters who put them in office, have long made associations between crime and marijuana that sounded great, but are just not true. Dramatic and dropping crime rates, starting in Colorado as of last year are taking the wind out of such overheated claims (overall so-called Index Crimes also dropped precipitously), and the public tolerance for armed street level interdiction clearly has reached its nadir. Thus the defunding of the DEA during the last days of the year in 2014 by the U.S. Congress supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

The issue of medical efficacy is also one that seems to be moving more Republican politicians (particularly in medical legal states) to begin to open their eyes about medical efficacy (see Florida and Georgia) even as “mainstream” (Democratic) politicians like Hillary Clinton continue to waffle.

In some states, most notably California and Kentucky, more conservative politicians from not only the mainstream Republican party, but those who tend to support Tea Party if not “libertarian” policies, are also looking at the bottom line – not just the cost of policing. Although it was DEA raids of California state legal dispensaries over the last 20 years that has kept Representative Dana Rohrabacker (R-CA) in Orange County on the “right” side of reform for a long time. In the Blue Grass State, federal politicians are also looking at business development to form their new marijuana policies. This was clearly the motivation of both senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Tea Party favourite Rand Paul (both federal Republican party affiliated senators from the state) in backing DEA reform so strongly last year. Last spring the DEA halted a shipment of Italian hemp seeds bound for state farmers – a valuable source of both jobs and state income. Paul’s continued leadership in the Senate on the topic, not to mention McConnell’s shadow backing, clearly moved one of the most important reform elements forward in the U.S. forward last year, even if via an untraditional route if not party affiliation.

In the UK, Tory support seems to be focussed on drug interdiction and police budgets as the driving need for change without a nod of support (yet) for the billion pound domestic industry marijuana legalization represents (medical or recreational). That said, unless there is a clear support for a nascent business vertical, the issue of overall reform may be stalled behind other more pressing politics domestically, particularly with general elections looming. David Cameron, for one, seems more likely to listen to a well-funded industry than non-profits and policy wonks making noises about medical efficacy (sadly).

Without that, it may be that EU policy drives the UK, rather than domestic politicians of any stripe. Perhaps if Scottish nationalists had made cannabis production a centrepiece of the campaign rather than just North Sea oil revenue, there would be an independent Scotland today if not a nascent “green” industry that could begin creating sustainable jobs, tax revenue and a highly popular product to “export” to the rest of the British Isles.

What proved so effective, ultimately, in the U.S. last year, were working markets. And until that happens in the U.K., normal political as well as sorely needed market forces are absent from the national debate.

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