From the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States to Brexit and rising unrest in Europe, the concept of nationalism is gaining steam in many parts of the world. Tired of what they see as rampant immigration and the relinquishing of national sovereignty to other organizations, many are embracing parties and politicians who want to put their respective country “first”.
For the most part, nationalism roughly coincides with what is considered “right wing” on the political spectrum. The right wing is not exactly known for supporting things like marijuana legalization, and this holds true for most parties and party leaders that currently espouse nationalism in their country.
But this is not always the case. Upon deeper examination, much seems to depend on the level of economic freedom in a given country. For example, the citizens and government of Israel could be described as exemplifying a high degree of nationalism, for religious and historic reasons. And yet that country leads the rest of the world when it comes to medical marijuana research and technology. In fact, Israel is moving toward nationwide cannabis decriminalization.
At the other end of the spectrum we have a country like China – nationalist to the core – and having a relatively large amount of cannabis there can cause you to disappear or even worse; some may remember the case of action movie star Jackie Chan’s son, who was facing up to three years in prison for possession but was released after serving 6 months, no doubt thanks to his father’s high profile within China and around the world. Those without famous fathers in China don’t get so lucky.
Sometimes cultural considerations overrule economic freedom as a determining factor on how cannabis is treated. While its economy struggled under a repressive communist regime, the former Soviet Union lead the world in industrial hemp production from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the culmination of hundreds of years of tradition in Russia, a country that also has a long tradition of nationalism. In fact, millions of acres of hemp grow wild in Russia to this day, even though actual industrial hemp production has dropped significantly in the country. As for marijuana, possession of under 6 grams is decriminalized, but that number was 20 grams before it was changed by Putin and company in 2006. Russian cops have been known, however, to look the other way in most possession cases – if a bribe is offered.
“When the authorities take their cue from the sinister interests of the population, what happens is everyone becomes a drug addict,” said Yengeny Bryun, the Russian Health ministry’s chief drugs specialist, on the topic of marijuana legalization in Washington D.C. Of course, reefer madness became a worldwide phenomenon many years ago.
As for nationalist movements that are on the rise or have ascended to power as of late, it’s a mixed bag there as well, although most of the movements – like the National Front led by Marine Le Pen in France – would not be considered progressive on the cannabis issue by any stretch of the imagination. “It’s completely delirious. On the contrary, we must fight with all our forces against traffickers and drugs,” said David Rachline, Le Pen’s campaign director, on the subject of relaxing marijuana laws.
Of course the most successful nationalist movement in the world is led right here in the U.S. by President Donald J. Trump. Much remains to be seen, but his administration isn’t exactly embracing cannabis legality.
Interestingly enough, one of the most famous spokesmen of the last several years when it comes to nationalist sentiments says he has never taken drugs but thinks they should be decriminalized. “I personally think that the war on drugs was lost many, many years ago and that the lives of millions of people in Britain are being made miserable by the huge criminal element that surrounds the illicit drugs trade and I do think that Portugal does show us that perhaps there is a better, more enlightened way to deal with this,” said Nigel Farage, the British UKIP leader most credited with the successful Brexit last summer.
“I’m not pro-drugs by the way, as someone with teenage children, and I’ve seen fairly close to hand the damage that drugs can do to young people. So I hate drugs, I’ve never taken them myself, I hope I never do, but I just have a feeling that the criminalisation of all these drugs is actually not really helping British society.”
“I think we should look at it and if ever there was a subject where we needed a genuine Royal Commission – not to kick it in the long grass – but a genuine Royal Commission to examine Portugal, to examine perhaps what has happened in one or two states in America and in Switzerland, this subject would be it.”
Those are not sentiments shared by many in Farage’s party in the U.K., where industrial hemp is grown under license from the Home Office but marijuana is still considered illegal to possess, grow or sell for any reason.
Another country in Europe with a long – and sordid – history with nationalism is Germany. Relegated to the shadows for years after the fall of the Third Reich, nationalist sentiments are beginning to gain traction again in response to German Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policies. Despite that, Germany is advancing in the realm of medical marijuana, with a rather restrictive (no home growing) program to kick off later in March of this year.
Next door to Germany, in The Netherlands, there is a long history of a relaxed attitude toward cannabis, and that is reflected in their advancement toward regulating marijuana. In the current election cycle, the Party of Freedom, a nationalist party led by infamous Dutch politician Geert Wilders, is leading in the polls and supports things like lifting smoking bans in bars and limiting cannabis coffee shops to at least 1km away from schools.
In the final analysis it can certainly be said that while nationalism can be a threat to marijuana law reform, it’s not necessarily one by default. In fact, if legalization is seen as something that can benefit the country in question, nationalism can be an ally to reform.
For instance, if more conservatives in the United States would realize how much legalization hurts Mexican cartels, they would be much more vocal in their support.
At this point it seems things like culture and economics will be more determinative when it comes to cannabis law reform, for the most part. Of course, that could change if the Trump Administration decides to crack down on legalization here in the U.S. That would go a long way toward tying nationalism and marijuana prohibition together in people’s minds.
It would also go a long way toward making marijuana a “big deal” in the grand scheme of things. Right now, when you look at nationalism movements around the globe, the issue of marijuana in not a top priority. But if Trump makes it a priority, those who want to follow in his footsteps around the world might make it one as well.
As for what we can do in the cannabis community, the answer is simple: the same thing we have been doing, just more of it. It’s never been more imperative to give maximum effort when fighting for legalization than it is right now. Marijuana law reform has never faced a bigger challenge because the movement has never had this much to lose.