4/20, Alabama GOP gubernatorial candidate pushes marijuana legalization message in hopes of elevating campaign

Dave Thomas says he is getting “moral support” on the campaign trail for his message of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults.

This was especially true in downtown Mobile on 4/20 during a celebration and educational event in a city park during the universal, unofficial holiday that celebrates all things marijuana.

“Voters are speaking loud and clear,” said Thomas, 56, mayor of Springville in the ruby-red county of St. Clair. “And although they don’t use cannabis, they are fine with the freedom of choice to make an adult decision.”

Thomas is running as a Republican in a crowded field for Governor of Alabama on a platform that is arguably more suited to Democratic candidates. He also faces candidates trying to outdo each other on conservative positions such as LGBTQ rights, election security and gun restrictions.

So far, Thomas’ candidacy languishes. He votes about 2%.

State records show he only raised $3,300, which is among the lowest of candidates who entered the race. Support from outside pro-legalization groups, which Thomas thought he might have attracted, has yet to materialize.

“To my surprise, there was no outreach from the national, regional or state organization,” said Thomas, who last ran for a position across the board. state in 2002 and narrowly lost the general election for Alabama Secretary of State to Democrat Nancy Worley. . “It’s pretty much a groundswell to the core.”

He added: “Maybe it will materialize. But for now, it’s quiet on that front.

thrust from the south

A marijuana bud, or flower, is ready for processing June 17, 2021 at the Greenleaf Medical Cannabis facility in Richmond, Virginia.AP File Photo/Steve Helber

Domestic supporters of the legalization movement say Thomas’ candidacy is symbolic and significant as states across the United States, including the Deep South, weigh the prospects of full-scale legalization.

“It is truly a sign of the times that there is a Republican lead candidate who prioritizes cannabis reform issues,” said Josh Glasstetter, spokesman for the US Cannabis Council, a Washington-based trade group. , DC, made up of legalization advocates.

“It’s something we see in states across the country, and it doesn’t follow the stereotypical script,” Glasstetter said. “2022 cannabis reform efforts in America are just as active in red states as they are in blue states.”

Indeed, some red states are seeing movement even though possession of marijuana remains a crime.

  • In Arkansas, one of only two Southern states to allow citizens’ initiatives to directly amend its constitution, an effort is underway to allow voters to decide in November whether marijuana use should be allowed for people of over 21 years old.
  • In Louisiana, Gary Chambers — the leading Democratic candidate in the U.S. Senate race against incumbent Republican Senator John Kennedy — ran a campaign ad this week showing him smoking marijuana.
  • State legislators in South Carolina and Louisiana are moving forward with legalizing the medical use of marijuana. Mississippi lawmakers also moved forward with medical marijuana earlier this year.

Alabama, one of the most conservative states in the country, approved a medical marijuana program last spring. A rollout of the is still underway, and licensing to potential distributors is months away from happening.

Medical marijuana supporters in the Legislative Assembly were also adamant that the new statewide program’s approval was by no means a gateway to recreational legalization.

Thomas is not discouraged. He is campaigning on a more libertarian, pro-freedom message on the issue in which he wants the government removed from what he says is “overreach” on continued marijuana bans.

“We on the right are pointing our fingers to the left and shouting ‘tyranny and excess,'” Thomas said. “But when it comes from the right and it’s about imposing your will on your neighbor, it’s still tyranny.”

He added: “As long as we are responsible, our freedom should not be hindered. It’s a sensible approach to the cannabis issue and a refusal to perpetuate propaganda.

Republican Opposition

Polls suggest most Americans are behind Thomas’ views, but Alabamians are slower to get on board.

A whopping 91% of Americans say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last year. Only 8% of respondents said it should be illegal.

In Alabama, a late March poll by Emerson College Polling/The Hill showed that 47% of Alabama voters oppose legalization, while 42% support it.

Divided by age groups, among those who are between 30 and 49 years old, 60.3% are in favor of legalization while 32.2% are against. Among those aged 65 and over, 69% oppose it.

Jess Brown, a retired political science professor at Athens State University and a longtime observer of Alabama state politics, said he was surprised that more than 40 percent of voters in the state supported legalization.

“The fear of marijuana instilled primarily by federal law enforcement 30 years ago is rapidly dissipating,” Brown said. “I think we will live to see the day when the criminalization of the social and recreational use of marijuana is completely abolished.”

Thomas, however, appears to be a lone soldier fighting the battle for legalization ahead of the May 24 GOP primary.

One of those rivals, Tim James, claimed at a city forum in Daphne last month that state officials were creating a “drug cartel” by implementing the cannabis program. state medical.

The Alabama Republican Party also does not support Thomas’ platform. In a statement to AL.com on Wednesday, party chairman John Wahl said the party supports “traditional family values.”

“It’s important to us that our society and our families stay safe, strong and healthy,” Wahl said. “Recreational use of marijuana does not encourage these principles.”

Wahl’s comments came in reaction to the Alabama Democratic Party, which earlier in the day launched the “Free Weed” website to promote the legalization effort in Alabama.

Thomas said he believes his stance could help Republicans broaden their tent to include moderate Democrats and independent voters.

“Because of the stigma, career politicians worry about their careers and their political longevity, and they don’t want to touch that hot potato,” Thomas said. “If nothing else, this separates me from the rest of the Republican primary.”

Hometown Hesitation

The pro-legalization stance also causes Thomas headaches at home.

The Springville City Council in January backed a resolution in favor of law enforcement. The resolution said the “selective” application of laws is inappropriate “in a civilized society and may ultimately lead to anarchy”.

Thomas was not named in the resolution, but the timing of it came shortly after he announced his candidacy for governor and his experience with marijuana use.

“He basically said, ‘I smoke marijuana,'” Springville City Councilwoman Katrina Hennings said. “In Alabama, it’s not legal. We just wanted to have a resolution saying we don’t support breaking the law.

She added: “I don’t support his platform, but that’s it. For the citizens of Springville, I don’t think from the phone calls we’ve had that he’s had a lot of support on that platform.

St. Clair County GOP Chairman Ren Wheeler said he hasn’t spoken to Thomas since he announced his candidacy for governor.

“I guess his splash wasn’t big enough to excite Republicans,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he doesn’t believe Thomas’ position is supported by St. Clair Republicans, who in 2020 backed former President Donald Trump with 81% of the vote to 17.4% for the Democratic challenge. Joe Biden.

Three years earlier, in the special senate election won by Democratic challenger Doug Jones, Republican challenger Roy Moore was backed by St. Clair County voters with more than 70 percent support.

“Ahead of its time”

Brown said he thinks Thomas “was ahead of his time” with his gubernatorial run. He also said Thomas is likely more suited to Republicans vying for election in western states where there are more libertarian politicians.

“It’s not an issue that I would have chosen in 2022 to run in a Republican primary for governor,” Brown said. “That could play out in the far northeast states, like Maine. But in Alabama in 2022 in a Republican party? Nope.”

Thomas said he just wanted to differentiate himself from others, while clinging to an issue that has shown increased economic impact in states where legalization has taken place. Eighteen states, Washington, DC and Guam have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

“Getting into a race and looking and sounding like (the other candidates) without the same access to those resources, you have to be smart about that,” Thomas said. “Here (legalization) is controversial and I hope we will make headlines and cause a stir.”

He added, “The country is starting to wake up, state by state, and Alabama doesn’t have to be the last on board.”

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