After finishing fourth in last night’s Iowa caucus, Newt Gingrich wasted little time traveling to New Hampshire, host of next week’s primary.
New Hampshire’s a far different beast than Iowa: it’s more moderate, less motivated by social issues and legendarily independent. The Live Free or Die State is basically a liberal version of Texas, the equally individualistic Lone Star State.
Despite its slogan, though, New Hampshire is the only Northeast State that has no decriminalization or medical marijuana laws, so it’s no wonder a voter asked Gingrich about his pot policy during a Concord town hall today. And it was a doozy.
“Would Thomas Jefferson or George Washington be arrested for growing marijuana?” the man asked, putting Gingrich in an awkward position: arrest two Founding Fathers or stick to his anti-pot platform.
The candidate replied, “I think Jefferson and George Washington would strongly discourage you from growing marijuana, and their tactics to stop you would be more violent than they would be today.”
Rosie Gray at BuzzFeed points out that “historian” Gingrich is wrong: Jefferson and Washington both grew marijuana on their Virginia farms, hoping to make it big in the then-booming hemp industry. Both, however, failed.
The Straight Dope has this brief history lesson:
Washington used some of what he grew to make hemp clothing worn by his slaves. However, U.S. hemp exported to Britain often was of such poor quality that it couldn’t be sold, and Washington was never able to turn a profit on the crop despite sustained effort. Jefferson also seems to have grown hemp strictly for local consumption, from which we deduce he couldn’t make money at it either. In short, not only were Washington and Jefferson marijuana farmers, they were unsuccessful marijuana farmers.
What’s more, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper (the final version was put on parchment). Gingrich is either intentionally obscuring history to maintain a hardline against marijuana, which to opponents can only be used for getting hippies high, or she needs to brush up on marijuana’s American history. Either way, the candidate’s response provides an opportunity for a closer examination of his past support for medical marijuana.
As previously noted, Gingrich praised medical marijuana in a letter published in the March 19, 1982, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Though the then-Representative made distinguished between “marijuana’s potential harms” and its “important medical benefits,” Gingrich in no uncertain terms blasts federal law for prohibiting marijuana’s medical use.
Since 1978, 32 states have abandoned the federal prohibition to recognize legislatively marijuana’s important medical properties. Federal law, however, continues to define marijuana as a drug “with no accepted medical use,” and federal agencies continue to prohibit physician-patient access to marijuana. This outdated federal prohibition is corrupting the intent of the state laws and depriving thousands of glaucoma and cancer patients of the medical care promised them by their state legislatures.
On September 16, 1981, Representatives Stewart McKinney and I introduced legislation designed to end bureaucratic interference in the use of marijuana as a medicant.
We believe licensed physicians are competent to employ marijuana, and patients have a right to obtain marijuana legally, under medical supervision, from a regulated source.
This isn’t the same as allowing patients to grow their own, but Gingrich’s philosophy on the matter is certainly more liberal than the one he holds today. He now says patients who use medical marijuana will simply have to deal without the “convenience.”
Gingrich told Yahoo’s Chris Moody in November he changed his mind within a year of introducing the 1981 legislation because of “the number of parents I met with who said they did not want their children to get the signal from the government that [smoking pot] was acceptable behavior.”
That means Gingrich switched positions sometime between Early 1982, when the AMA letter was sent, and September of 1982, one year after he and McKinney introduced the legislation. Pretty fast turnaround there, Gingrich.
But why, one has to wonder, is Gingrich still basing his marijuana policy on opinions from three decades ago when the majority of today’s voters — 77% according to CBS News‘ October poll — believe medical marijuana should be legalized?
Image via Gage Skidmore’s Flickr.