In the minds of most people, the cannabis legalization debate is generally a binary argument: Democrats support it and Republicans don’t. Which puts Zoe Russell, assistant executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, at odds with, well, everybody.
“I joke that no matter where I go, nobody likes me,” Russell says with a laugh.
However, when it comes right down to it, marijuana legalization is not all that polarizing a topic, particularly among younger members of her party.
“This is something a lot of Republicans agree with,” she says.
Originally from Houston, Texas, and now living in San Antonio, Russell has a degree in economics and just finished law school with plans to work in criminal justice law.
She joined RAMP in 2014 after seeing founder and executive director Ann Lee speak at a meeting. Lee’s son, Richard Lee, was injured in the 1990s and used marijuana to treat muscle spasticity. Initially, Russell was drawn in from an economic and liberty standpoint. Rather than wasting limited resources trying to control people’s habits, Russell prefers the government to focus that money on actual matters of public safety.
On top of that, Russell says she really cares about the criminal justice aspect and thinks that prosecuting people for something minor like marijuana can have implications well beyond the actual charges.
“I think it’s silly to give people criminal records because you are setting them up for a lifetime of criminality,” she says.
She says propaganda like the “gateway theory” of marijuana leading to other drugs is the greatest challenge RAMP faces, though that seems to be falling by the wayside more every day.
“People are seeing for themselves that what they have been told about marijuana just isn’t true,” she says.
Through her work, she has also come to appreciate the medicinal effects of cannabis and finds it mind-boggling that the United States has banned a plant in favor of medicines that can often do more harm.
She also believes the counterculture that most Republicans negatively associate with cannabis and cannabis users exists because of prohibition and she is trying to change the notion that only “stoner-types” use marijuana.
As for being a Republican in marijuana circles, Russell says as long as she keeps her focus on the plant everyone seems to get along.
“I feel really lucky to be involved in this industry,” she says, adding, “We’re here for the long haul.”