For a so-called Republican moderate, Jeb Bush says a lot of immoderate things. First he calls immigration an act of love, only to put on his Tea Party hat and dismiss the plight of 50,000 young refugees at the border. Now he comes out against an amendment on Florida’s November ballot that would legalize medical marijuana, taking an extreme position that is totally out of whack with public opinion in Florida and America as a whole.
“Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire. Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts.”
Bush’s implication that the state of Florida could be diminished by the legalization of medical marijuana is massively insulting to Floridians. It is a shame that Jeb Bush, the man many Republicans call an “intellectual,” falls back on tired stereotypes about pot that appeal to fear and negative association rather than reason. He does not explain why the moral judgments and preferences of a shrinking slice of the population should dictate the legal status of a drug. Absent any evidence, his alleged adverse effects on families and businesses are just emotional appeals. The so-called policy wonk is apparently not above engaging in the kind of substance-free fear mongering that would make Ted Cruz proud.
Bush is not much more empathetic than Cruz either. He never considers the massive implications of his vague, unqualified positions on individuals (disproportionately minorities) imprisoned for marijuana-related offenses. To Bush, the preferences of (mostly imaginary) anti-marijuana businesses supersede those of prisoners wasting away their lives. Not much of a compassionate conservative.
Any weight that Jeb Bush’s cynical argument might have is demolished by polling. Reuters polling reveals that 88% of Floridians support legalization of medical marijuana while only 10% oppose it. Should the 10% dictate policy?
Bush’s comments also come as support for legalization soars nationally, with 55% of Americans in favor. Medical marijuana is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized marijuana for both recreational and medical use, have suffered no disasters. In fact, legalization has led to an increase in tourism and abundant entrepreneurship (not to mention new tax revenues), things business-minded conservatives like Jeb Bush might appreciate if not for their chronic fear of chronic. The New York Times, perhaps the most prestigious publication in the world, has captured the sentiment of the public and declared its support of legalization. So just who are these peculiar tourists and businesses that will shun Florida for the appalling crime of legalizing medical marijuana? Who are these families that will refuse to take trips and move to the Sunshine State? Even those who continue to oppose marijuana are bound to find other things they like.
If Jeb Bush wants to live up to his image as a forward-thinking, sensible Republican, he should get on the right side of history and support the legalization of marijuana. Some Republicans, like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, are vocally challenging the drug war. By embracing legalization or a drastic de-escalation of the drug war, Jeb Bush could outflank Paul and appeal to new, pro-legalization demographics without being weighed down by crackpot libertarian positions on other issues. It would be a risk, but isn’t leading the GOP in a new direction supposed to be Bush’s thing? He’s surely not going to win the presidency based on his personality (assuming he even runs), so he might as well take some chances, maybe even do the right thing.
But no. By opposing the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida, Jeb Bush once again shows that he’s nothing special. He’s not the man who will lead the GOP to a better future or bring brains back to the party; he’s just a well-connected, washed-up establishment bore that “moderate” Republicans place their faith in because they have no better option for 2016. If Jeb Bush is, in fact, the future of the Republican Party, the Republican Party is in trouble.