It may seem paradoxical that an 85-year-old longtime Republican from Texas has taken up the banner of marijuana legalization. To Ann Lee, however, the war on marijuana is fundamentally out of step with her conservative values.
Lee (photo below) is co-founder of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), a Texas-based legalization group. Though she has never actually smoked it herself, she cites her political values as well as the personal struggle of a close family member as primary reasons for her advocacy of American citizens’ right to use marijuana.
In 1990 Lee’s son, Richard, was paralyzed in a workplace accident that caused him to seek relief from nerve pain that resulted from his injury. After discovering a study that suggested marijuana might reduce his suffering, he decided to give cannabis a try. At first, Ann and her husband Bob were wary of their son’s decision. However, after “a lot of prayer and some research,” as well as faith in their son, they finally made the decision to support Richard’s marijuana use.
Though she had whole-heartedly embraced President Regan’s policies in the 1980s, which included her incidental support of the war on drugs, her son’s experience with cannabis led Ann to view marijuana differently. She and Bob began attending political meetings focused on marijuana’s legal status in Texas. In 2012 she presented as part of a panel at a conference held by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and discovered that, including herself, more than half the members of the panel were Republicans. She and her husband soon formed RAMP in order to convince more fellow Republicans that prohibition was at odds with their party’s values.
Lee, who is white, likens current marijuana policies to the Jim Crow laws of her youth, pointing to the disproportionate number of people of color who are jailed for marijuana-related violations despite the fact they are no more likely to use marijuana than are white people. She says it is immoral to lock people up for using and selling marijuana.
In addition to the moral dimension of her argument, Lee sees irony in conservative support for government efforts against marijuana. She explained:
“You cannot believe in small government and believe in the huge bureaucracy created by the drug war.”
She views Republican politicians such as Rand Paul as allies in her mission to prevent federal infringement on citizens’ right to access marijuana. Paul’s views on the issue were made clear by his bipartisan work with two Democratic senators to introduce a senate bill that would prevent federal law enforcement officials from policing medical marijuana use in states that have already legalized it.
Though Lee, at 85, is sometimes frustrated at the pace of marijuana law reform, she plans to continue her work.
“The young Republicans,” she says, “have embraced the issue with all the passion that I’ve ever had.”
She looks to the future and has reason to be hopeful.