Some Republicans Are Beginning To Come Around On Marijuana

By Britni de la Cretaz 09/26/17

Despite the party's traditional stance on marijuana, a few members of the GOP are speaking out in favor of medical marijuana research.

Rand Paul and Orrin Hatch
Rand Paul and Orrin Hatch

The Republican Party is not exactly known for being progressive when it comes to its stance on drug policy.

Led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, currently the Trump administration's most high-profile anti-marijuana appointee, much of the party takes a harsh line against legalization of illicit substances of any kind. And while that’s still the case for many members of the GOP, some are beginning to have a change of heart when it comes to the potential medical benefits of marijuana.

Sessions has made his stance on marijuana clear—he’s against it. But his position is extreme to the point that he even wants to block all research into the potential medical benefits (or even harms) of the drug. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch told Rolling Stone that he thinks that’s a mistake, and that the U.S. should be conducting research on medical uses for marijuana, noting “there's a difference between smoking marijuana—using it illegally—and using it to alleviate pain and suffering." 

And he’s not the only Republican senator who thinks the government should be researching cannabis. Senator Rand Paul told Rolling Stone that he supports the reclassification of the drug so that approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) isn’t required in order to study it. Currently, as it stands, many researchers don’t want to risk studying it because its classification as a Schedule I drug means the DEA sees no medical benefit to it and researchers could be targeted by the agency.

Last year, the DEA announced that it had no intentions of rescheduling marijuana any time soon, but did say it intended to increase access to marijuana for research purposes. However, that change hasn’t happened, and many politicians are accusing the DEA and Department of Justice of dragging their feet if not outright blocking access.

A bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress this past spring seeking to change marijuana from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule III substance. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Matt Gaetz, a Republican, and Darren Soto, a Democrat, was filed for the express purpose of making it easier for researchers to study.

“This drug should not be in the same category as heroin and LSD, and we do not need to continue with a policy that turns thousands of young people into felons every year,” Rep. Gaetz said in a press release. “Nor do we need to punish the millions of people who are sick and seeking medical help.”

California also just approved a joint resolution asking the federal government to change the classification of marijuana.

Hatch told Rolling Stone, "I know that medical marijuana can do some things that other medicines can't. I'm for alleviating pain and helping people with illness."

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.