CLEVELAND — Dale Jackson, a heating and air-conditioning man and father of an 8-year-old autistic son, flew up to the site of the Republican National Convention on Monday, to ask his party’s platform committee to endorse the use of medicinal marijuana where appropriate.
He wanted to take Georgia’s fight national.
Jackson found a delegate who would pitch the idea, but his luck ended there. The 112-member committee that is currently drafting policy positions for the 2016 presidential contest rejected it out of hand, by a voice vote of two-thirds or more.
“I knew that this issue was a long shot. Traditionally speaking, the RNC tends to be behind the general public and public sentiment. I was prepared for the failure of the amendment,” said Jackson, who took the rebuke hard. “Like other defeats in the past, I will continue on to fight for my son and his medicine.”
Jackson is chairman of the Third District GOP. The very conservative congressional district stretches from metro Atlanta to Columbus. Jackson has been active in state Rep. Allen Peake’s effort to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana in Georgia. An effort to permit a few licensed companies to grow the drug for therapeutic use failed this session.
The effort to obtain a national Republican endorsement for cannabis oil – not legalized marijuana use – was only one of several issues, big and small, that Republicans wrestled with. The platform committee beat back an effort to kill language that encourages state legislatures to make the Bible a part of school literature studies in their state. They challenged federal efforts to protect grey wolves and prairie chickens.
Republicans killed an effort to permit states to bar welfare recipients from purchasing junk food – a position that brought a Georgia delegate into the debate. Scott Johnson of Marietta said such restrictions, attempted in some states, expose retailers to uncertain and often hair-splitting regulation.
‘It’s very hard to have a health food definition. Just as an example, Oreos were okay, but chocolate-covered Oreos were not, because they were considered candy,” Johnson said. Afterwards, he admitted that Coke’s tall profile in Atlanta was another consideration.
But it was the debate over medicinal marijuana that sparked some of the sharpest exchanges of the afternoon. Jackson is an RNC delegate who will return to Cleveland next week. But he was not a member of the platform committee, and stood in the front row of the press section – as if he would leap over the rail to join the debate.
“It was beyond painful for me not to have an opportunity to respond to the critics that spoke against the amendment,” he said afterwards.
A delegate from California drew a line between pot and gun violence. “If you look at the debate about guns, all of the mass killings that have taken place, they’re young boys from divorced families, and they’re all smoking pot,” she said.
Others pointed to the problems states have had with prescription drugs like Oxycotin, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Others pointed out that, while some states have legalized it, marijuana in any form remains on a federal list of forbidden drugs.
“It’s the opiates that they’re on, is what’s causing all the shooters, and the addictions and the overdoses,” Jackson erupted after the vote. “Not cannabis. But that’s FDA appoved, so they’re okay with that.”
Jackson had the support of the two Georgia delegates, Johnson and Rayna Casey. But it was Eric Brakey of Maine, a young state senator who chairs his chamber’s health and human services committee, who introduced the amendment to the RNC platform.
A split along generational lines was evident. The nail in the coffin came from Jim Bopp, an older Indiana attorney and influential religious conservative. “This would be a major policy change with wide-ranging effects,” he said.
Jackson admitted the gap. “My generation is more informed and has a better understanding of the issue of medical cannabis oil. Quite frankly, because we’re the ones now with children that are facing these issues,” he said, voice-breaking. “We see it first-hand. We see lives being changed first hand. Until you see it, you don’t get it.”
Jackson said he and his wife began administering cannabis oil to their son, diagnosed with non-verbal autism, on March 3. He still doesn’t speak, but his condition has improved, the young father said.
Jackson will return to Georgia on Tuesday, then drive back to Cleveland for the official beginning of the convention next week.
Starting in Iowa and New Hampshire, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has brought you every key moment in the 2016 presidential race. A team of AJC journalists will be at this month’s Republican and Democratic national conventions, continuing to provide that deep coverage.