In the latest example of a changing political atmosphere surrounding marijuana issues, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Washington state has been forced to clarify a series of cliché jokes his office made at the expense of medical marijuana research and patients.
Last week, Republican Dino Rossi issued an extremely immature and thoughtless press release criticizing federally funded research being conducted at Washington State University into marijuana’s effect on pain medication. The two-year study by psychology professor Michael Morgan involves injecting rats with synthetic cannabinoids and opiates in order to find ways to improve treatment for people suffering from chronic pain.
Rather than emphasize the great need for this type of research, as well as the proven efficacy of marijuana in helping to manage pain, Rossi decided to revert to hackneyed and unoriginal middle-school level humor. “Washington state taxpayers are tired of their money going up in smoke,” read the release issued by his office. “This bill isn’t going to stimulate anything other than sales of Cheetos.”
Morgan, who received $148,438 in federal stimulus funds from the National Institutes of Heath, defended his research in an email to the Seattle Post Intelligencer:
“It is odd that Rossi thinks he knows more about good research than these neuroscientists. The goal of stimulus funds going to research was to create jobs and advance research to improve health care. Contrary to what Rossi’s press release says, I have created jobs. I funded both a graduate and undergraduate student with the $50,000 that I receive each year. It also provided a month of summer salary for me given that the State does not pay professors in the summer. The undergraduate I am currently funding actually graduated in May and would be unemployed if I did not offer her a job,” Morgan wrote.
He said pain treatments cost billions of dollars each year.
“…what we proposed has nothing to do with smoking marijuana or what Rossi implies. It would have been nice if Rossi had checked his facts before trashing research that could be very beneficial. There are millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain. Is Rossi arguing that we should not do research to find better ways to reduce this suffering?”
One day later, a spokesperson for Rossi was put on the defensive, and tried to backtrack by saying “no judgment was made [by the campaign] on the validity of the research.”
This last development is important for one major reason: After years of being considered a third-rail issue that politicians were free to scorn, more candidates and officials are now waking to the reality that marijuana reform issues—and medical marijuana in particular—are very, very popular among voters. As the Rossi campaign has discovered, the most controversial thing about medical marijuana nowadays can be opposing it. Nationally, 81 percent of Americans support medical marijuana.
In another interesting aside, Steve Elliot points out that Rossi this year earned distinction as one of the 11 Most Crooked Candidates in the entire nation, according to a list put together by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.