Sign of the Times: Pot Shop Owner Wins Council Seat in Ultra Conservative County
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Republican rank-and-file is shifting on the issue of pot. A recent Gallup poll shows a majority of Republicans support legalization of marijuana for the very first time. Now, we’ve also get an interesting test case.
Steve Lee, a 33-year-old cannapreneur who owns two marijuana dispensaries, has won a city council seat in the solid red county of Benton, Washington where 58.97% of voters broke for Donald Trump. Lee ousted incumbent Gregory Jones for the Kennewick City Council last month with 7,138 to 5,351 votes.
In a phone interview with The Intercept, Lee described the town as “super conservative” and said that he saw himself as a “long shot” when he began his race. But he had cut his teeth in politics working for Obama for America in 2007, so he had an organizing skillset he knew he could apply to a local race.
Given the area’s anti-marijuana politics, questions about Lee’s business frequently popped up during public forums and debates. “That was the big thing in our community, there was sort of a little bit of a whisper campaign about [marijuana],” Lee noted. “People were afraid that I was running to turn over our area’s ban, sort of force cannabis businesses on our conservative community where our community didn’t want them.”
But he eventually won his district over by practicing good, old-fashioned retail politics: showing up at events, talking to people, hearing them out, and recruiting them to his agenda.
In other words, Lee won not because of his policies on marijuana but in spite of them. Still, a pot shop owner winning a council seat in a "super conservative" town like Kennewick suggests there could be more open-mindedness on the issue than we think.