Those who oppose the legalization of marijuana are losing the battle, says the nation’s first drug czar, William Bennett, who served in that capacity under President George H.W. Bush and as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan.
Bennett is now the head of Conservative Leaders for Education, an organization that seeks to ensure conservative values are included in state education policies.
In hitting on the theme of “Making Goodness Fashionable,” Bennett tied both issues together as he addressed the Saturday morning session of the Western Conservative Summit, sponsored by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. The three-day Summit concluded Sunday.
Bennett spoke at the American Legislative Exchange Council earlier in the week, as did several other Summit speakers. The Summit, held at the Colorado Convention Center, immediately followed ALEC’s three-day event across the street at the Hyatt Regency Denver, allowing Colorado conservatives to easily migrate from one gathering to the other.
Students are not focusing and learning enough, Bennett said. “Obviously the thing to do is to give them marijuana,” he said, sarcastically. “It is time to reverse those ‘fashions’ and go in the right direction.”
He criticized those who supported marijuana legalization, stating “[h]ow could you do this to the children of Colorado?” although Bennett made it clear his question was not directed at the conservative Christians at the Summit. “Why in God’s name would you make a drug available to children … that destroys or inhibits focus or attention?” Bennett claimed that a 14 year old who smokes marijuana regularly loses 8 IQ points. He did not cite a source for that claim.
In an interview after the speech, Bennett addressed the national movement toward marijuana legalization, calling it a losing battle for his side. He noted that only one state – Arizona – has turned down the opportunity to make marijuana legal for recreational use, and predicted that any state that allows recreational marijuana will come to regret that decision in about a decade.
There’s no question that there will be an increase in the use of marijuana among young people, Bennett told The Colorado Independent. “It is a function not just of availability but of permission,” adding that Colorado “cheated” by starting out by allowing medical marijuana. That led to a lot of young people (he identified males aged 18 to 27) who “gamed the system” by getting licenses to obtain marijuana for pain, a claim he indicated was questionable. A better system, Bennett said, would be to require a prescription every time a person obtains medical marijuana, so that it puts the doctor’s reputation on the line.
The 2015 Colorado Healthy Kids Survey, conducted more than a year after the state legalized recreational marijuana, showed that Colorado middle and high school students’ use of marijuana was “relatively” unchanged from use prior to legalization. The survey, which is supported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is conducted every two years.
Bennett noted that while he was drug czar, he favored allowing one state to legalize, but wanted to watch how legalization played out over the course of a decade. Legalization is now a “freight train,” he said. Colorado will reverse course in 10 years, he predicted.
The morning session also featured remarks from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican strongly in favor of the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. He told the audience that the Republican Party intends to preserve Medicaid “for those who need it,” whom he called the disabled, the young who are still legally below working age and the elderly who are too old to work. He told reporters later that “able-bodied” individuals on Medicaid should have a work requirement.
The Kaiser Family Foundation says that eight out of 10 Medicaid recipients are in working families, and that 59 percent hold jobs without a work requirement.
Scott said that within the GOP, “the perfect has become the enemy of the good…We have not yet found the sweet spot” that gets everyone in the GOP on board with repeal and replace.
He doesn’t support a clean-slate approach, one that would basically start over with health insurance. Scott also doesn’t favor dealing with taxes in the Obamacare repeal, stating that issue should be worked on through tax reform, another key agenda item in the Trump administration.
While he does support protecting those with preexisting conditions, which is addressed in one of the Senate GOP bills to repeal and replace, that support has limitations, such as a six-month waiting period for people to obtain health insurance so they don’t “game the system.” Scott also would get rid of the individual or employer mandate, which requires everyone to purchase or otherwise acquire health insurance. He also supports an amendment, proposed by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, that would allow for catastrophic policies (he called them “skinnier”) that Scott said would reduce premiums substantially.
The Summit also featured interviews with the declared GOP candidates for governor, and the Saturday morning session brought in Steve Barlock, a Colorado co-chair for the Trump campaign last year. Barlock was introduced by Weston Imer, who made national headlines last year as a 12-year-old volunteer co-chair for Trump in Jefferson County. Imer, now the youth volunteer coordinator for Barlock, told the audience that Barlock is the only “true Trump candidate” who has backed Trump from the beginning “and always will.”
Related: Weston Imer is at it again
Among other positions, Barlock took aim at the Hickenlooper administration on water, stating Colorado needs to go back to the courts and fight for its water. “We cannot subject our citizens and our farmers to a drought caused by a weak government.”
In a straw poll conducted on Sunday, GOP candidate George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District Attorney, won with 38 percent of the vote. Businessman Victor Mitchell won 20 percent; Barlock got 7 percent. State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who has not announced his candidacy, took 6 percent.
The poll tested 26 choices, including 18 Republicans, 7 Democrats and one independent candidate. Not all of the choices are declared candidates.
Among the Republicans listed: declared candidates Barlock, Brauchler, Lew Gaiter, Greg Lopez, Doug Robinson and Joanne Silva, as well as Secretary of State Wayne Williams, former Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio, Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, and DaVita CEO Kent Thiry.
Democrats in the poll included declared candidates former state treasurer Cary Kennedy, businessman Noel Ginsburg and Rep. Jared Polis, as well as Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne and former Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia. The independent candidate was Bill Hammons, who is running under the Unity Party.
But don’t let it be said that conservatives don’t have a sense of humor, as evidenced by this:
You just have to watch….
Photo of Bill Bennett by Marianne Goodland