What Color Is Montana?

  What Color Is Montana?

Posted by CN Staff on January 01, 2005 at 20:01:23 PT
By Walter Kirn 
Source: New York Times 

It happened in November in Montana. Having contracted cancer from his lifelong smoking habit, and suffering from the nausea and loss of appetite that are typical side-effects of chemotherapy, a Marlboro man type (with the blessing of his neighbors, who'd voted to help the ailing old cowboy seek relief from a once-illegal plant) struck a match on his boot heel, cupped the flame, brought it to his lips and lighted a joint. This development surprised some people.
The people it most surprised were not Montanans, or even Westerners, but Eastern media types -- the folks who'd been on TV since the election speechifying about ''the values gap'' dividing red and blue America. These analysts had reached a consensus that was sweeping in its implications and, if you thought about it for very long, staggering in its simple-mindedness. There are two kinds of voters, the formula said: the easygoing coffeehouse artistes who dwell on the coasts and in small parts of the North, and the uptight white-chapel patriots who live in the South, the middle and the West (or, as geographers put it, ''almost everywhere''). Because of its location relative to the Mississippi River and because it voted overwhelmingly for President Bush, my home state, Montana, was colored red and tossed on a pile with Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and all those other cattle lands where men are still men, legend has it, and women let them be, leading to rigid behavior in the voting booth. Democrats? Hate 'em. Environmental laws? Them spotted owls are mighty tasty. Firearms? Handy for shooting them spotted owls. Gay marriage? Don't know; I'll have to ask my preacher. Ah, those predictable red Westerners. They're either standing and saluting, kneeling and praying or lying down and breeding. But sitting and puffing weed? It didn't quite fit -- which might have been partly why unruly Montana (which until a few years ago had no daytime speed limit and still permits motorists to drink while driving as long as they're not intoxicated) blurred the national political color code by legalizing medical marijuana at the same time it backed the Republican president. As for the other questions put before them, Montanans didn't just split their ballots; they shredded them. They elected their first Democratic governor in 16 years, upheld a prohibition on toxic mining practices, broke the Republicans' hold on the state Legislature but also amended the state Constitution to ban gay marriage. One problem with political science is that its laboratories are unsecured, allowing real people to roam around inside them, spitting in test tubes and fiddling with computers. Montanans, and Westerners in general, are especially mischievous in this regard. For starters, they're fond of circumventing the bigwigs by legislating through popular initiatives -- a fondness that may explain why of the 11 states where doctors can prescribe cannabis to patients, 9 are in the West. This tendency toward what might be called ''vigilante democracy'' can make a hash of organized party politics and of electoral models that link past behavior to future results. That's why Arnold Schwarzenegger runs California now. In Montana, the new Democratic governor, a beefy-looking rancher named Brian Schweitzer, challenged what had become over the years a smug and clubby conservative power structure by choosing a Republican running mate who showed no more reverence for his party's orthodoxies than Schweitzer showed for his. Schweitzer's display of independence worked, and red Montana, like red Wyoming, red Arizona and red Kansas, installed a blue leader, thus turning his state purple -- a color the Eastern analysts seem blind to, but which Westerners recognize as the color of sagebrush and, as the song says, of mountain majesties (whatever those are). Purple is also the color of certain strains of marijuana, particularly the more potent ones. Most Montanans, I'd wager, don't know this from experience, despite having passed last November's initiative with a 62 percent majority -- the largest in the history of such votes. And since neither party discussed the issue much during the campaign season, it seems fair to conclude that Montana's decision resulted from independent thinking by thousands of voters. That's not supposed to happen anymore. People vote with their congregation, right? Or against those who belong to congregations. What were Montanans' reasons for busting out of their assigned political corral? My guess is that they had lots of little private reasons -- Grandpa just won't eat since he got lung cancer; the Beatles smoked dope, but they sure did write great songs; the stuff can't be any worse for you than Vioxx -- and a handful of larger, more thoughtful reasons linked to concerns about personal liberty, prescription-drug costs and states' rights. When added together, these reasons yielded an outcome: keep your hands off the Marlboro man; the fellow's sick! For journalists and political professionals, case-by-case outcomes that arise from a welter of motivations won't pay the bills, though. They need every election to have a moral -- and, ideally, a chart that supports the moral as well as their authority to propound it. The source of their power is their mania for order, which is why a state like Montana, where people distrust order (and sometimes resist it just because they can), makes such nonsense of their lovely maps. Soon, of course, even this Western ornery streak will be classified and given a color -- at which point Montanans may give up being ornery out of sheer, redoubled orneriness and vote to make it illegal to own firearms unless you're married, gay and stoned. Maybe the experts will finally figure out then that the freedom some people cherish most (not only in Montana) is the freedom from being figured out. Walter Kirn, a frequent contributor to the magazine, is the author, most recently, of ''Up in the Air,'' a novel.POLITICS OF THE SEEDStatewide marijuana initiatives, 2004 Montana: Allow patients to use, possess and grow their own medical marijuana without fear of arrest or jail. Yes: 62 percent | No: 38 percent Alaska: Remove criminal penalites for marijuana use and sale by adults 21 and older and prompt the state Legislature to tax and regulate marijuana. Yes: 44 percent | No: 56 percent Oregon: Strengthen Oregon's existing medical marijuana law by allowing registered patients to purchase marijuana at nonprofit, state-regulated dispensaries. Yes: 42 percent | No: 58 percent Source: Marijuana Policy Project Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Walter KirnPublished: January 2, 2005Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Marijuana Policy Project Law Creates Tangle of Legal Issues Marijuana Registry Fee Angers Patients Can Now Register for MMJ Treatment

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Comment #5 posted by afterburner on January 03, 2005 at 07:58:11 PT
What Color Is Montana?
Maybe it's Red, *White*, and Blue!Without the white, the flag would be a small blue rectangle within a larger red rectangle. Stars and stripes require the contrast of white for continuity.
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Comment #4 posted by john wayne on January 03, 2005 at 05:58:43 PT
Big Bob Barr turnaround?
Wasn't it Barr who helped scratch kitty litter on the Wash. DC
medical marijuana vote in 1998?By making it illegal to spend a couple bucks to report the "yes vote" or something? And now he's saying we're "over criminalized"?
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Comment #3 posted by Taylor121 on January 01, 2005 at 21:18:15 PT
The only way
The only way we got a shot at legalizing cannabis is appealing to conservatives. We can't leave anyone out. Apply their economic conservative values to pot to put principle against principle thereby winning some over (I mean c'mon, pot laws are EXPENSIVE and WASTEFUL, just like many other program that talk about). Hopefully we can get 1/3 of them to support us in due time, with 2/3 of liberals supporting us. Get the picture?Btw, Bob is odd because he was an anti drug zealot. The Libertarian Party ran ads to help defeat him because of his opposition to medical marijuana. The next thing you know after being voted out, he publically announces his endorsement to Michael Badnarik, the 04 Libertarian presidential nominee. I don't think he changed his position on drugs, but on other issues I think he may be on target.
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on January 01, 2005 at 20:57:47 PT
EJ That's Something 
As bad as things have gotten maybe some will see that we've gone way too far. That's good to read. There's hope.
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Comment #1 posted by E_Johnson on January 01, 2005 at 20:46:55 PT
What color is Bob Barr?
This is interesting:,2933,143046,00.html"I think we should be alarmed on a number of different levels," said Bob Barr, a former Republican member of Congress from Georgia who also used to be a U.S district attorney. "We’re changing the very nature of society — the over-criminalization of society."
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