If Medical Marijuana Is Legalized, You Can Thank The Tea Party

Politics makes strange bedfellows—except for the Tea Party, which doesn't sleep with anyone. The Conservative movement has defined itself by its "no compromise" approach toward politics. So, why did Tea Party members of Congress support Democrats on a key vote on medical marijuana?

A total of 49 Republicans joined Democrats in supporting legislation, co-sponsored by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), which prevents federal agents from stopping the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Similar legislation has recently been introduced in the Senate, bringing this one step closer to becoming law.

Even longtime supporters of the legislation were surprised by the 219-189 vote in the House of Representatives. And, they were more surprised by the legislation's supporters. One would have expected moderate Republicans to have cast the deciding votes. Instead, most of the backers were GOP members of Congress who came from "deep red districts" that are the base of support for politicians like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann.

John Hudak, an expert in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, explains what brought these political rivals together:

For liberals, the marijuana issue is about civil rights, criminal justice and access to healthcare, among other motivators. Many see government prohibition of marijuana as misguided as government's prior prohibition of alcohol. Conservatives see this issue as one of states' rights and a means of reducing the role of federal influence.

After spending years criticizing ObamaCare as government coming between a patient and her doctor, Republicans see prohibitions on medical marijuana as similar interference. Pushing the feds to take a hands-off approach is consistent with both liberal and Tea Party ideologies.

However, this is more than just a principled stand. Members of Congress see the writing on the wall. Public support for medical marijuana has never been higher. The Marijuana Policy Project has recently cited national polls from Fox News and CBS News that show that more than 80 percent of Americans support medical marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project also cites state polls of support for medical cannabis from a diverse set of states including Idaho (61 percent), Kentucky (78 percent), Maryland (72 percent), New York (82 percent), Ohio (73 percent) and Texas (69 percent).

Public support like this gives many in Congress the political cover to assert their principles — on civil rights, on the 10th Amendment, on health care freedom, etc. And on at least one issue, that political cover makes bipartisan best friends out of liberals and the Tea Party.