Medical Marijuana Emerging as Major Campaign Issue

July 7, 2008 - 8:29 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Medical marijuana has been the subject of local petition drives and received marginal political attention over the years, but the issue is beginning to take a higher profile, if a Georgia Republican congressional primary election is any indication.

The medical marijuana issue became the subject of a fierce television ad campaign launched by the Libertarian Party this week in a suburban Atlanta congressional district.

Libertarian Party congressional candidate Carole Ann Rand is running the ad in her campaign against Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.). The spot features a multiple sclerosis victim lashing out against Barr over the use of marijuana in treating her disease.

"This is unprecedented," said Alan St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws Foundation (NORML). "There has never been an ad used by a candidate or an incumbent that has taken the issue of marijuana and... made it front and center."

The 30-second ad is running on several major cable television channels in the district, and Rand said another round of advertisements would run next week as well. The ad is also available on her campaign website.

The spot opens with multiple sclerosis patient Cheryl Miller lying on a stretcher and a narrator asking, "Why does Bob Barr want this woman in jail?"

Miller, who lives in New Jersey, then introduces herself as a medical marijuana user and says, "Bob Barr thinks I should be in jail for using my medicine. Why would you do that to me, Bob?"

"This issue is definitely coming into play in a way that we've not seen before," said St. Pierre. "We now have a crop of politicians that are either in place or running for office that no longer use absurd statements to try to explain their prior marijuana use. This issue, unlike in the prior three, four or five election cycles is really in play."

NORML also thinks the ads indicate that the "structure" that has been surrounding legalization of marijuana appears to be crumbling.

"We now have many, many candidates that are running all around the country that are making the drug war a part of their plank. Most of those candidates are from the Libertarian Party because they have this as a major part of their plank," said St. Pierre.

The American Public Health Association has also supported medical marijuana for therapeutic purposes, but the group is taking a wait-and-see attitude as to whether the issue will become a major force in American politics, according to spokesperson Kelly O'Brien.

But O'Brien said the APHA is pleased that the Georgia ad campaign is being run because people need to know more about the issue.

"I'm not sure that it means it's a national swell, but we're hopeful that it is certainly becoming more and more of an issue, especially an issue in congressional campaigns," said O'Brien. "This is a good indication that its visibility is rising."

The Libertarian Party includes the ads in what it calls the party's 'Incumbent Killer Strategy,' which targets for defeat congressional Republicans and Democrats who are opposed to relaxing restrictions on marijuana for medical use.

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