By Chris Lane
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"I absolutely think that whenever one has the opportunity to have a recognized conservative lead the charge, you should always do it. It gives credibility; it gives cover," says Stroup.
Only the hard-liners' capitulating will likely bring progress. And while relying on the GOP to think straight on medical pot might be "kinda frightening," as one cannabis activist put it, it's probably the only chance they have.
"The fact that we are now getting a [California Republican] Dana Rohrbacher out front and a Ron Paul out front and a handful of others suggests to me that it's getting easier for Republicans to buck their party leadership," says Stroup. "And one of these days, the party leadership is going to decide this doesn't make sense."
On the sleepy side of morning rush hour, with the sunrise carving deep, cool shadows from the downtown skyline, Clay Jones stations himself in front of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center and begins shouting.
"Call your representatives! Call your state senators! Call these people! End the madness! Make cannabis available medical -- we need it!" he yells, waving a stack of blue flyers at the crowds that walk past. "Ten states can't be crazy! Ten states have legalized it! Ten states say they have compassion for their people! They don't want 'em to suffer! If your mother had cancer -- if this was available for you, dammit, you'd break the law! You'd get it! We're not asking for carte blanche! We just want medicine!"
Only a cynic would deny Clay Jones his or her sympathies.
Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, recognizes that. He says the issue has been "clouded by a lot of the emotion involved."
"I think a lot of people who follow this closely can recognize that there are a small group of very wealthy people who have been trying to get marijuana legalized for a long time unsuccessfully," says Riley, citing liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros. "They made a strategic decision a number of years ago that rather than continue to, you know, beat their head against the wall in the face of popular disapproval of marijuana, to use this medical angle and to find people who are genuinely sick, who are genuinely suffering, who will genuinely say that marijuana made them feel better and then use those people as, if you will, a human battering ram to get their agenda across."
From Riley's perspective, Clay Jones is a tool of larger forces, whose stated main goal is the legalization of all drugs. "The medical marijuana issue is largely hiding that debate behind sick people," says Riley. Although some say that's a red-herring spin move by drug warriors, Keith Stroup of NORML acknowledges that the more radical agenda -- pushing for over-the-counter heroin and such -- hurts the more moderate one.
Before cannabis, Clay Jones spent most of his limited energy agitating on behalf of the disabled community. As an "angry young man," he says, he was arrested dozens of times for civil disobedience, though he never spent much more than a week in jail. He sees parallels to that cause now.
"Because what you're doing, you know it's right." He quickly resumes the yelling: "There's a madness going on!" By 9 a.m. his voice is faltering. He says he'll need to spend the next 16 hours in bed. A man in a suit grabs a leaflet and says to Jones, "If you want to have medical cannabis, you'd better move, because you live in Texas and the Republicans will never vote for it."
"Well, if they call themselves compassionate--" begins Jones.
"I agree with you, but you're in the wrong state. Come on!" The man disappears inside the courthouse. As it happens, Jones has been thinking about picking up and setting off for Canada. He'll give it time, though, and see if the issue can't make headway in Texas or in Washington.
The crowds filing past him on Franklin have thinned. Jones waits a while longer, handing out a few last brochures and flyers, and then he sets off for home. Monday morning is zipping along in downtown Houston, but Clay Jones needs to rest.