Marijuana Movement Lights Up, Targets Conservatives

Advocates of legalizing medicinal marijuana in New York are now pinning their hopes on, of all people, conservatives.

An early salvo appeared in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge Courier newspaper earlier this month, in the form of a full-page ad targeting Conservative Republican State Senator Marty Golden, and featuring Joel Peacock, a member of the state’s Conservative Party.

The piece says that Peacock suffers from “chronic, severe pain” from a 2001 car accident and that medicinal marijuana offers him effective and cheap relief.

It was one of eight print ads that ran this month aimed at Republican State Senators across New York. (The Democratic-controlled State Assembly already passed a bill on June 13 to legalize medical marijuana, and the governor supports it in concept.)

The other state senators being targeted are Republicans Carl Marcellino, Kemp Hannon and Dean Skelos of Long Island; Frank Padavan and Serph Maltese of Queens, Thomas Morahan of Rockland County; and Dale Volker from upstate.

All of the ads feature polling information that supporters say proves that the idea of legalizing medical marijuana is more popular than lawmakers think, suggesting that the Senate is increasingly isolated in its opposition.

“The only house that hasn’t acted on the bill and hasn’t officially said they support it is the Senate,” said Vincent Marrone, a spokesman for the group behind the ads, the Marijuana Policy Project.

Mr. Marrone also pointed to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, a cancer survivor with libertarian tendencies, supports the bill as well, at least publicly.

“He understands the importance of this bill to people that are living in pain,” Mr. Marrone said.

The campaign represents a significant departure from the days, not so long ago, when the medical marijuana issue was chiefly the domain of single-issue candidates running on the Marijuana Reform Party line.

The more focused, politically sophisticated nature of the advocacy is made possible—necessary, even—by what seems to be a significant shift in public sentiment on the issue. A poll of 500 Conservative Party voters in New York, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project and conducted by the D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., found that 55 percent said they support the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

The pollsters also asked the question of registered voters in several of the eight targeted Senate districts. In the districts of Marcellino, Hannon, Maltese, Golden, Morahan and Volker, the levels of support were, respectively, 76, 70, 63, 69, 69 and 61 percent.

But for all the progress proponents of legalization have made among officials in Albany and in terms of broader public opinion, the remaining opposition, for now, is holding firm.

“What they’re saying in effect is, ‘Ignore federal law,’” Mr. Padavan said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go, particularly when you have all this medical evidence opposing it.”

“We have all sorts of medication to take care of those issues,” Mr. Golden said. “To go in and say you can grow plants of marijuana on your fire escape, or in your basement, it just doesn’t work here.”

Mr. Golden, added, “I lost my mother-in-law and father to cancer. I know it. I feel it. But this, the way it’s set up, doesn’t work. I think it would only lead to illicit drug use in the city of New York.”