“Everyone evolves in their views. If not, there’s something wrong with you.”
Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Politicon.
At exactly 4:20 p.m. on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Pasadena, California, nearly a thousand people crammed inside a lecture hall to listen as five experts discussed the politics of “Weed Nation.”
Sitting at the center of the panel was a well-tanned man with firmly parted white hair and a matching cream colored, three-piece suit. His brow furrowed skeptically as he looked over the crowd.
“That guy in the center looks like he’s got a big stick up his butt,” said a woman sitting in the row behind me. Her friend laughed in agreement but whispered back, “Yeah, but his tie is really nice.”
The man in question was Roger Stone, who has been described as the “brains” behind Donald Trump’s unlikely rise to the White House. Stone, 64, has a notorious history in politics going back four decades to when he played a role in the re-election of Richard Nixon and currently finds himself embroiled in the Trump campaign’s Russia scandal.
But on this day, Stone was taking part in the third annual “Politicon,” a gathering of an estimated 10,000 political junkies who came out to hear pundits, policymakers, and activists debate the issues of the day.
To the surprise of many, Stone has become an outspoken advocate for the legalization of marijuana. And it’s something he says he thinks he can convince Trump to come around on.
“Medical marijuana is now a consensus issue in the United States,” he said during the panel. “And recreational marijuana is headed that way.”
Stone said he has filed a federal lawsuit with Florida attorney John Morgan that asks the government to remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. That classification, first enacted under the Nixon administration, puts pot in the same category as drugs like heroin and cocaine. Morgan has invested millions of his own fortune fighting for the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida, the state where Stone now lives with his wife and family.
The duo recently formed a group called the U.S. Cannabis Coalition, which allows them to officially lobby the government, including Trump, on the issue. Stone is widely considered to be one of the most successful lobbyists in modern American history, even by his biggest critics.
Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon.
Stone says he was motivated to act after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he wanted to go after states that had voted to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. That position directly contradicts comments made by then-candidate Trump in which he said the issue of marijuana should be left to the states.
“I hope to convince the president of the United States to honor his pledge,” Stone said. “It’s time for the administration to speak with one voice and not break faith with the American voter.”
So, how did a man best known for electing men like Nixon and Trump get here? “Everyone evolves in their views,” he said. “If not, there’s something wrong with you.”
In an unusually personal confession, Stone explained that his own views changed after seeing his father and grandfather battling terminal cancer. “They were going through chemotherapy and radiation,” a visibly emotional Stone said. “You could smell them burning alive. That’s when a cousin of mine suggested trying medical marijuana. And yes, I got ahold of marijuana and gave it to them. It made a tremendous difference.”
Furthermore, Stone wasn’t shy about trash talking fellow Republicans who continue oppose marijuana.
On former President George W. Bush, he quipped, “The guy snorted so much coke, he had a personal thank you note from Pablo Escobar,” while also knocking Ohio Gov. John Kasich, claiming that Stone fired him from a campaign job in 1976 when he allegedly found out a young Kasich was selling pot.
Beyond his own personal connection to medical marijuana, Stone says it just makes sense for Trump to either fully support legalizing marijuana or at least get out of the way and allow the individual states to continue experimenting with their own laws.
Stone noted that in swing states that Trump narrowly won like Michigan and Pennsylvania, support for medical and recreational marijuana has been rapidly increasing and that cracking down on pot could doom Trump in 2020.
“A tidal wave is coming,” Stone said. “I predict the president will do the right thing.”