When Pot and Vaccines Scramble our Parties

Yesterday brought a few interesting wrinkles to our typically smooth partisan divide. Important developments on two issues — marijuana and vaccinations — brought out a libertarian streak among both liberals and conservatives, shaking up the parties a bit.

On the marijuana issue, yesterday brought us a real first: a major party presidential candidate conducting a campaign event in conjunction with a marijuana business organization. In Denver, Senator Rand Paul held a fundraiser with the Cannabis Business Summit at the city’s convention center. He additionally accepted a $5,000 contribution from the National Cannabis Industry Association’s PAC.

This demonstrates a real advancement for an industry that was both a laughingstock and a criminal enterprise just a few years ago (and still is in most states). While I wouldn’t characterize Paul as a mainstream Republican candidate — he’s still of the party’s more libertarian wing, and his views on foreign policy are well outside what most within the party are comfortable with — he certainly has some national appeal within the party, and he’s seeking to expand his appeal beyond his base. The fact that he’s doing so by speaking to marijuana businesspeople is pretty fascinating.

It’s additionally interesting because marijuana legalization supporters have tended to be Democratic. When Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed in 2012, its main supporters were Democrats, although it was significantly more popular than President Obama. As legalization has proceeded in Colorado and other states, the marijuana industry has become a more vibrant and broadly accepted one, and Paul’s actions yesterday suggest that there’s a nontrivial portion of the Republican Party that is drawn to it from the perspective of free enterprise.

Another big event yesterday was California Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of SB 277, a law that sharply limits parents’ personal exemptions for their children’s immunizations. This bill was written by a Democratic state senator and sponsored entirely by Democrats. But its critics seem to come from both ends of the political spectrum. The deeply conservative Orange County Register proclaimed that “Liberty loses with mandatory vaccinations bill.” Over on the left, liberals took to Twitter and Facebook to decry their loss of parental freedom, sounding almost like conservatives did last week over their perceived loss of their freedom to refuse to bake gay wedding cakes. The strongest voices against the law came from liberal enclaves like Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Marin County, while Jim Carrey accused Governor Brown of being a “corporate fascist.” (Jenna Elfman’s agitated, too.) It’s nothing new that resistance to immunization crosses party lines, but the new California law is bringing this rift to the fore once again.

Of course, none of these developments are likely to undermine the ideological divide between the major parties any time soon. But it’s interesting to see where the fissures emerge.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.