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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 24th August 2018 > WHAT ARE REPUBLICANS SMOKING?

WHAT ARE REPUBLICANS SMOKING?

Die-hard conservatives like John Boehner and Greg Abbott are suddenly high on the legalization of cannabis. Is it about the potential health benefits, as they suggest, or hooking young voters?

POLICY

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALEX FINE

JASON ISAAC, A FOURTHGENERATION Texan and conservative state representative, has a clear memory of his first mind- expanding encounter with marijuana.

It was January 2015, and the Texas state Capitol building was swarming with lawmakers returning to work. Two women were sitting on the stairwell opposite his office, waiting for him. He sat down with the pair—his constituents— and heard their stories. One had a child with intractable epilepsy, the other a child with severe autism. Both said their young kids suffered uncontrollable seizures, hurting themselves and family members. Prescription medications had consistently failed to treat the symptoms. The moms were asking for the freedom to try something new. Cannabidiol (CBD)—a chemical compound in marijuana that does not make people high—is believed to alleviate seizures. But giving it to their children in any form would put the women on the wrong side of Texas law.

And raising the issue, Isaac knew, would put him on the wrong side of the Republican Party.

For decades, marijuana legalization was a nonstarter in Washington, and particularly in Republican politics. In a viewpoint still embodied by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the party considered cannabis a dangerous gateway drug; it contributed to the degradation of Christian morals and needed to be controlled through strict policing. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions has said.

Just a few years ago, being a conservative lawmaker and wanting to talk about marijuana made you an outsider, and to support legalization was a kind of political suicide, seen as an abandonment of the Republican Party’s deeply entrenched identification with traditional values and the war on drugs. And nowhere was that stigma more intense than in Texas.

But as state experimentation with legalization grew, media coverage of marijuana’s supposed health benefits increased, and public opinion and demographics shifted, Republicans—some of whom had touted their hard-line stances as unalterable— began to soften.

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BONE DRY: INDIA'S KILLER DROUGHT A few months after Radha Krishnan took his life, his wife, Rani, was holding her husband’s skull in her sun-beaten hands — the most powerful evidence she could find of a growing disaster back home. She had joined one thousand farmers in traveling thousands of miles to New Delhi to demand a drought relief package for the farmers of Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state. Krishnan’s public suicide was a last, hopeless protest. In February 2017, after his crops had failed for the third year in a row and with no chance of repaying his loans, he sat on the street outside the local bank and drank from a bottle of pesticide. He died a few hours later, leaving his wife and four children. An estimated fifty nine thousand, three hundred, farmers in India have taken their lives in similarly overt ways since 1980, and with temperatures rising, the fear is that suicide rates will climb.
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