The Great Dinosaur Conspiracy

Kris Drummond  |   Friday Sep. 2nd, 2016

Contemplating federal politics in the electoral afterthought that is Montana is exhausting. It’s an empty helplessness that settles in as November nears, particularly this year. I want to care, but maybe part of growing up is coming to terms with a terminally ineffective system. With three electoral votes, Montana is almost unanimously ignored by serious presidential candidates who were chosen through corrupt means anyway. With our main outlets of expression being fervent letters to the editor (or columns in a free coffee shop magazine) focus spent on the current presidential race seems like focus wasted. And that long preamble to point out the obvious, and to propose that maybe instead of spending the precious minutes of our lives arguing over which sociopath is the least sociopathic, we could reorient our attention to Montana, to state issues that we can control, that our votes can actually sway. There are real people, equally crazy and much closer to home, proposing all manner of insanity. And so rather than worry about who is going to swindle their way into the captains’ seat of the Titanic of American culture, I will attempt to present some of the homegrown issues at stake for Montanans in the upcoming election cycle.

1.  Medical Marijuana
The first concern begging for educated consideration is the unprecedented regression of medical marijuana legislation currently sweeping the state. The hypocrisy around this issue, at every level of government, is astounding.  
Let’s start federally. Recently, the DEA reified their position that marijuana is a schedule 1 drug, meaning it presents substantial danger and has no known medical value. It’s a funny stance given the fact that since 2003, the United States government has owned a patent (#6630507) that “proved cannabis — cannabinoids — were medicinal and effective for numerous ailments, conditions, and that the plant was nontoxic, non-lethal.” Why would the United States government try to gain exclusive rights to sell a plant they have spent almost a century demonizing? Oh yeah, the same reason they do everything else.  Money and power.

But despite the standard response by America’s notorious DEA, momentum continues to shift in favor of sanity. Sanity being the inevitable legalization at the state level of a plant that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know to be about as dangerous as jaywalking a residential street around 11 am on a Tuesday.

Unfortunately, a growing tide of the ultra right has hijacked the conversation here in Montana and has actually managed to staunch one of the most progressive laws we’ve ever known. And the main man behind this attempt at backward time travel is Steve Zabawa, owner of Rimrock Auto Group in Billings.

Zabawa’s is the classic story of the jilted lover. While in negotiation with prospective grower Mark Higgins over renting warehouse space, Zabawa offered to rent his building if Higgins gave him 10% of the proceeds. (That’s 10% of the profits made via the devil’s lettuce itself). Higgins refused the offer and shortly thereafter, Zabawa’s crusade began. Since then, with allies like Attorney General Tim Fox and other far-right lawmakers, Zabawa has been pushing the classic, though still mistaken, marijuana propaganda that we’ve been hearing for almost a century. His organization, the ironically named Safe Montana, has been gathering signatures at gun shows and cancer rallies to repeal the 2004 law which legalized medical marijuana in the state. Relying on tired stereotypes, contested research, and logical fallacies galore, “Safe Montana” strikes a chord of apocalyptic urgency that taps into the latent neophobia that has become the calling-card of embattled conservatives. Filled with pictures of heroin needles, white powders, and blanket statements that claim the equal destructiveness of all “illegal drugs,” it’s clear that Zabawa and his organization are interested not in truth but in a status quo that allows cognitive dissonance to remain unchecked. Only time will tell if Zabawa and Safe Montana will capitalize on the safety of profit when the immanent legalization of cannabis comes to pass.

While we could hope that the glaring hypocrisy exhibited in the previous two examples (and many others like them) would expose a pattern of monetary gain parading as “safety,” it seems that the long propaganda war on this specific plant has done its work well. A century of media and political campaigns have painted marijuana as a demonic force despite overwhelming evidence that it’s medically viable and demonstrably safer than any of societies’ accepted inebriants. And statewide fear mongers have capitalized on this outdated rhetoric to push Montana’s medical marijuana program to the brink of extinction. However, this November, we have a chance to get it right.

Initiative I-182 is a revamped law that would open Montana back up to medical marijuana after the 2011 regulations enacted by the Supreme Court all but shut down the entire program. Basically, the bill is a chance for voters to prove, again, that they support medical marijuana in the state. The 2004 bill passed via popular vote with 62% approval--a huge margin by political standards. The 2011 repeal, however, was enacted by the legislature. Not the voters.  

I-182 is symbolic of many things. Compassionate care. Cognitive liberty. Logical policy making. But beyond that, it is a chance to reclaim (even though we shouldn’t have to) democratic decision making. The people have spoken once. And now we have a chance to speak again.

2.  Greg Gianforte

Politicians can say whatever they want, but their money doesn’t lie. And if we follow the money trail of Greg Gianforte’s $32 million dollars of organizational donations, we can see the type of governor we’d be getting.  

According to the Billings Gazette, Gianforte has donated over $520,000 to groups (Focus on the Family and The New Jersey Family Policy Council) that encourage the practice of “gay conversion therapy.” It’s 2016 and this level of ignorance should be an automatic disqualification for public office at any level. He further clarified his problem (obsession?) to people doing certain sex stuff by stating his opposition to a statewide non-discrimination ordinance which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. He says all the right things about first amendment rights, but only someone with a stake in discriminating attempts to stop anti-discrimination laws.  

Gianforte has also shown his hand with regards to science and the separation of church and state. And by that I mean he doesn’t think either should exist. He’s proposed that as governor, he would remove science from the curriculum, allowing computer science to fulfill both science and foreign language requirements. Aside from the obvious conflict of interest (Gianforte has a major stake in computing after owning RightNow Technologies) it’s also a predictable move for a man who tries, unsuccessfully, to veil creationist beliefs. Oh, and it’s concerning that a gubernatorial candidate is unaware that governors don’t make school board policy.  

I didn’t intend this piece to be a slam of the right wing. But it just seems that the really disturbing political rhetoric of this election cycle is coming from that direction. I don’t side with either of the established political camps because I think solutions to systemic issues are necessarily bigger and more complex than Republican/Democrat talking points. That said, some of the stuff coming from the ultra-right this election period (unfortunately correlated with a party originally focused on the wise protection of personal liberty and fiscal sensibility) is downright dangerous.  

Montana has just over a million people, and with such a small populace, each vote carries a real significance. I don’t understand the nuances of state economics, how to create jobs, or even how marijuana actually reduces pain. But I do know that on a social level, this political cycle is scary. People have bled and died for decades, and continue to, for the slow trickle of social justice that is finally starting to flow a little faster. It feels like on a human level at least, we are getting somewhere. And while it would be nice to think of that progress as permanent, we’ve seen that it isn’t. So in homage to the great Bill Hicks, I end with a plea that as you cast your ballot for the person who will be our pilot for the next four years, you ensure that at the very least, the candidate you pick believes in dinosaurs.     

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