April 20th. 2016
Before Ann Lee’s son, Richard, was paralyzed in an accident, she never imagined that she would become a fierce advocate for marijuana legalization. The 86-year-old Texan is a lifelong Republican, and considers herself a good Christian with strict conservative values.
But after Richard Lee’s accident in 1990, he was left dealing with an extremely painful condition known as spasticity, which affects people with spinal chord injuries. Ann Lee tells The Influence how her son came across cannabis and how it changed his life: “When he was in the hospital here in Houston, he chanced upon an article by two doctors who were researching spasticity and marijuana…he got out of the hospital and got the marijuana. I can remember to this day,” she continues. “It was in August of 1990; he said, ‘Mom and Dad, marijuana is good for me.'”
Having been exposed to a lot of misinformation, she was troubled by this at first. “We foolishly conformed to all the propaganda and lies that are put out about marijuana. People saying that it’s the weed of the Devil.”
But then: “We got involved after a lot of prayer and a lot of research. Marijuana was darn good medicine!”
Nowadays, her support for marijuana legalization doesn’t stop at medical use: “The more we looked at it, the more we realized that marijuana is a much more safe recreational drug than alcohol,” she says. “A person should at night be able to enjoy a little marijuana, as I do a glass of wine. I think marijuana needs to be taxed, controlled and regulated like we do alcohol and tobacco….we have certainly not learned from history. Prohibition was not the answer.”
Richard Lee eventually moved to Oakland, California where he became a prominent activist for medical marijuana, even founding his own educational facility: “Oaksterdam University was started by our son in San Francisco, and it’s a trade school for people who want to be in the Marijuana business. It was the first of its kind!”
Ann Lee supported her son’s activism for decades, then in 2012 she was asked to fill in for a panel held by NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). And much to her surprise, she found that three of the five panelists were, like her, Republicans. She had long maintained that marijuana prohibition was contrary to the conservative values of self-determination and small government—now she found that other conservatives out there shared this view.
Following this meeting, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) was born. It currently has chapters in five states and several thousand supporters around the country.
Ann Lee’s opinions about the drug war and its attendant systematic racism are emphatic. She remembers the Jim Crow era with an intense disgust—”The first time I saw black and white people who were friends was when I went to college…it seemed like the natural thing to do”—and considers Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow to be a crucial text. She despises the culture of mass incarceration.
Ann Lee admits that most of RAMP supporters so far come from the libertarian wing of the GOP, but she sees herself as a more traditional conservative: pro-life (though she’s open to some compromises), pro-states’ rights and pro-business. RAMP has tried to fit itself into the mainstream conservative movement but Lee and her allies still face a tough challenge to achieve this. More Republicans are still against legalization than support it; however, most Republican millennials are in favor, which bodes well for the future.
RAMP has been hoping to make an impact at conservative events and conventions (it also had a stall at last year’s Drug Policy Alliance-organized Reform conference in Washington, DC), and Ann Lee sees no reason her group shouldn’t continue to gain traction.
As for the 2016 presidential race, when Ann Lee spoke with The Influence, she was still undecided on which candidate to support.