FARGO - A self-described "flaming conservative" is in North Dakota for a five-day stretch to try to convince voters - mostly Republicans - to support recreational marijuana on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Don Murphy, who is a lobbyist in the nation's capital fighting to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, is also a former eight-year Republican legislator in the "very blue" state of Maryland.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

With most Republicans opposed to marijuana legalization, and many Democrats on the other side, he has his work cut out for him.

He now works for the Marijuana Policy Project, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and he said he currently has the votes in Congress to pass a bill that would give states the right to determine marijuana laws, with President Trump also in favor.

However, the chairmen of the judiciary committees in the House and Senate - Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia - won't allow a hearing or vote on the bill to allow it to advance.

But what's interesting, he said, is that leading the effort in the U.S. Senate is GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.

He said GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a former county district attorney, also favors the bill.

"So when they throw out that everything bad is happening in Colorado, just take a look at how the leaders there feel about it," Murphy said in an interview on Thursday, Oct. 18.

He said if recreational marijuana passes in North Dakota, he would expect the state's delegation to support the end to federal prohibition of marijuana and follow the "will of the people."

The father of two said his main reasons for getting involved in the issue are that he doesn't like to see people's "lives ruined" when they are arrested for possession of marijuana and possibly thrown in jail, and he believes those suffering from medical conditions have the right to medicinal marijuana in less restrictive ways.

Murphy said he's not a pro-marijuana person, but thinks the drug war on pot is wrongheaded.

"I'm anti-ruining a person's life and going to jail," for marijuana possession, he said.

Although he was confronted at a public forum Wednesday at the Fargo library by an attendee who said there were only a hundred people in jail for marijuana, Murphy said there were 3,000 arrested in the state in the past year.

"What's more dangerous? A person running a red light and possibly killing someone or smoking marijuana and killing a bag of Doritos in the comfort of your own home?" Murphy asked.

He calls it an "economic death penalty" when someone is arrested for possession of marijuana as it can affect getting a job, student loans, renting an apartment or reaching full potential.

As for the medical side to it, Murphy said when he was a legislator he was asked by a highly decorated Green Beret from Vietnam and conservative farmer who had cancer if he thought the man was a criminal because he was using marijuana for pain relief.

That question started a four-year battle in the Maryland state Legislature over medical marijuana, which finally passed and was signed by a Republican governor in 2003.

Murphy said he's not a doctor and not sure of all of the medicinal benefits, but added that most of the delegates in Washington aren't, either.