Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was a senior speechwriter at the White House when first lady Nancy Reagan coined the catchphrase, "Just Say No."
On Thursday, the California Republican acknowledged just how much things have changed in Washington when it comes to drug policy as he stood alongside Democrats Earl Blumenauer, Jared Polis and Eleanor Holmes Norton to talk to reporters about Oregon, Colorado and the District of Columbia voters approving legalized weed.
Rohrabacher's attitude toward the drug has mellowed since watching President Ronald Reagan sign the “National Crusade for a Drug Free America” bill into law in 1986, and he thinks the rest of the GOP should hop on the pot bandwagon. "My message to my fellow Republicans is, 'Wake up and see where the American people are, but also see what the fundamental principles are in this debate,'" Rohrabacher told a room full of reporters in a House press studio. He said legalization is consistent with individual liberty, limited government and the doctor-patient relationship, "which of course we’ve been stressing a lot about lately."
Within his party, Rohrabacher has positioned himself as a protecter of states' rights when it comes to the legalization of medical marijuana. In 2012, the House defeated his amendment to prohibit the federal government from prosecuting medical-marijuana users and providers who are abiding by their state’s law. But similar language cleared the chamber in May on a 219-189 vote with bipartisan support.
The lawmakers said they are hoping to revive that amendment in the next round of budget negotiations, and Rohrabacher claims it would be smart for other conservatives to follow his lead.
“The members of the Republican Party just should become more practical if nothing else," he said. "The American people are shifting on this issue and this ... is going to make and could make a difference in the election of some very close races. I happen to believe that I actually benefited from my position."
The 13-term veteran of the House, backed by 64 percent of voters for re-election on Nov. 4, estimates he received an extra 5 percent of the vote "from people who would not have voted for me otherwise." He said his support for marijuana signaled he's "not so much of a right-winger that you can’t talk to me on things and I can’t look at things rationally, or have a heart towards people who are having their lives destroyed because they have a criminal record from the time they’re young."
Rohrabacher advised his fellow Republicans, "This is going to help you politically." If the philosophical arguments don't appeal, "come on over for just raw politics," he added. "The numbers are going this way now."
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