Fixture On The Campaign Trail: Granite Staters For Medicinal Marijuana

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Medical marijuana is not a topic often discussed on the New Hampshire campaign trail, but this year, Stuart Cooper has been pushing the presidential candidates to address the issue.

Cooper, a lobbyist for the Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, an off shoot of the national Marijuana Policy Project, has been following politicians around the state, raising his hand at town meetings and pushing his way through crowds to ask the candidate, if elected president, would he or she end the federal raids of ill patients who use medical marijuana and their suppliers.

Not wanting to appear soft on the war on drugs, yet not wanting to seem uncompassionate toward terminally or chronically ill people, committing to either side of this issue leaves candidates in a precarious situation.

"We believe these candidates do support us, [but] it may a little more time to get them out of their shell," Cooper said.

At an event this spring in Hooksett, Cooper approached New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson about his thoughts on medicinal marijuana. Well-groomed and wearing a suit jacket, the articulate Cooper succinctly explained the purpose of the project. After the event, Richardson's response was posted on the Granite Staters for Medicinal Marijuana Web site.

"On May 7, 2007, at a meet-and-greet in Hooksett, New Hampshire, Gov. Richardson said, ‘We must protect the seriously ill; we certainly must protect these people.'" The site states, "When GSMM staff asked him if he would end the federal raids on state medical marijuana patients, Gov. Richardson responded, ‘Yes, with the proper safeguards and protections.'" The site also mentioned that Richardson is the only presidential candidate who has signed state medical marijuana legislation into law.

There is a stereotype that follows proponents for the legal use of medicinal marijuana, but Cooper doesn't look the part. He said he always dresses professionally, as he did when lobbying for other clients, and sees how the way he presents himself may help candidates take him more seriously.

"It would be much easier to attack us if I had dreadlocks and a tie dye t-shirt," he said. Cooper uses the element of surprise to his advantage. By getting up at a town hall and shooting an unexpected question on medicinal marijuana, Cooper said the candidate is much more likely to give an honest answer than one that is well-rehearsed.

"Before we really lobbied them and their campaign and staff, we try to get the most honest answer by shocking them," he said. Cooper has spoken to all the declared presidential candidates at least once and a few are beginning to recognize him. He's spoken to U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., so many times, Cooper said he once identified him as "marijuana boy" at a town meeting.

The medicinal marijuana group is just one of dozens of organizations that come to New Hampshire during primary season in hopes of swaying the candidates, and hopefully the national debate, in favor of their cause. Dante Scala, professor of politics at the University of New Hampshire, said these groups are not just looking to influence the candidate, he said, but bring awareness to their cause.

"My hunch is that these groups probably want to take advantage to the publicity, the megaphone that you get when you bring your issue to New Hampshire," said Scala. "I can't think of a lot of examples where an interest group came in and really changed a candidate's thinking very much or if there was any ... effect [on] national policy."

While changing a candidate's position can be difficult, in 2004, the Granite Staters for Medicinal Marijuana conducted a similar campaign and eventually got six of the nine Democratic candidates to commit to ending the raids if elected. This time around, Cooper said all of the Democratic candidates have agreed to end the raids. U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., were the last to come on board, he added.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., "emphatically supports" ending the raids for the same reason U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, does, because it's a state's rights issue, said Cooper. As for the rest of the Republicans, Granite Staters for Medicinal Marijuana has not has as much luck swaying their position. All the other announced candidates support allowing the raids.

In the next few months, Cooper said he and others will continue to lobby all the candidates on the issue. For the Democrats, Cooper said supporters of his group, which include doctors and chronically and terminally ill patients, will attend town meetings and forums to thank the each of the Democratic candidates for their pledge and also make sure they don't change their minds.

When it comes to the Republicans who have refused to end the raids, Cooper said they are going to continue sending literature to the campaign staffers and keep asking the question at town meetings.

"We are not going to stop until American people know who wants to arrest and prosecute the seriously ill," said Cooper.

News Hawk- User
Source: Campaigns & Elections Magazine
Author: Beth LaMontagne
Contact: Campaigns & Elections
Copyright: 2007 Campaigns & Elections magazine
Website: Campaigns & Elections magazine
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