Spiker's right on medical marijuana

Embattled GOP chairman says his party needs to reconsider its stand.

Todd Dorman
Published: March 25 2014 | 8:19 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:07 am in

There are things you don’t expect to type. Like “Good job, A.J. Spiker.”

But there it is. I haven’t really been a big fan of the Republican Party of Iowa chairman. Spiker’s dishonest demagoguery on marriage equality, in particular, didn’t sit well. And yet, on his way out as chairman, he did something admirable. Brave, even.

On Sunday, Spiker came out in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in an op-ed piece published in Sunday’s Des Moines Register. He basically argued that Iowa doctors should be allowed to prescribe cannabis in situations where they believe it can help their patients. Spiker said he once opposed medical pot but looked more into the issue and changed his mind.

“There is no wrong in admitting we’ve made a mistake. The wrong exists in knowing we’ve made a mistake and refusing to admit it,” Spiker wrote. “Today I ask Republicans in Iowa and across the country to ask themselves to reconsider the facts before them and give more weight to the voices of doctors and patients than of political gurus and pollsters.”

I doubt fact-based politics has much of a future, but who knows?

Spiker isn’t exactly in a strong position to influence his party. He’s disliked by broad swathes of the Iowa GOP. His allegiance to the Ron Paulian “Liberty” faction has drawn plenty of ire. From the standpoints of managerial stewardship, fundraising, and promoting party unity, it is hard to argue the Iowa GOP is in better shape now than when he took over.

And, not surprisingly, his medical marijuana stand drew sharp and immediate flak. One member of the GOP state central committee, Jamie Johnson, called for Spiker to be removed from office, even though a new chairman will be elected Saturday. Craig Robinson, publisher of The Iowa Republican.com, the online news arm of the party’s establishment and no fan of "Big Liberty," derided Spiker’s op-ed as a “distraction” that will force candidates to talk about medical marijuana instead of “important issues.”

But you don’t have to be popular to be right. Like it or not, medical marijuana is a real issue, and a very important one to the Iowans it affects. Spiker simply is asking his party to look deeper, live up to all its rhetoric about personal freedom and reconsider its opposition. It’s good advice.

The real reason some Republicans don’t want to talk about it is because their opposition is fast becoming a political loser. The days of snickering over dirty hippie jokes have been replaced by testimony from parents desperate to find relief for kids plagued by seizures and other illnesses. Do Republicans really believe that these folks should have to become criminals to get help?

Last week, a Quinnipiac poll found that 81 percent of Iowans surveyed support legal medical marijuana. And yet, the same poll found that Iowans oppose broader legalization for personal use. That suggests they understand the difference between allowing sick people to have restricted access to marijuana and Colorado-style legal pot. More bad news for politicians who keep trying to stoke reefer madness by conflating the issues. Medical marijuana is not legal pot. Spare us your slippery slopes.

And, thankfully, Spiker isn't the only Republican willing to reconsider this issue. Five GOP state senators have signed on to a resolution along with five Democrats calling for a legislative study on the issue, which could lay the groundwork for a bipartisan bill in 2015.

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