“The war on drugs has been a failure. Prohibition was also a failure,” Malkin said recently, drinking coffee at a diner near her Colorado Springs home. “And pointing out that mainstream hospitals are administering these far more pernicious narcotics to terminally ill patients undercuts this whole idea that marijuana is this dangerous gateway.”
Surprised to hear such progressive talk coming from a conservative? Join the club. If you’re not surprised you’ve likely been reading Malkin’s missives for years.
The pro-marijuana conservative is a growing segment in the U.S. political spectrum, something we’ll see more of in the November elections. Malkin’s intensely personal story — dating from her time at the Seattle Times in the ‘90s to her mother-in-law’s current struggle with metastatic melanoma — is a potent example of why these two strange bedfellows are becoming increasingly familiar.
Longtime Malkin readers will remember her pro-medical marijuana columns from the ’90s. This snippet is from one of her July 1997 columns in The Seattle Times:
The nation’s war on drugs … has been a dismal, costly, inefficient failure. Over the past decade, spending on the anti-drug crusade has risen from $5 billion to $17 billion a year. Drug traffickers and dealers are thriving, raking in an estimated $150 billion a year; meanwhile, nearly half of the 1.6 million Americans in jail today are there for nonviolent drug offenses.
But Malkin didn’t always feel that way. When she left the LA Daily News for The Seattle Times in the mid-90s, she was as anti-marijuana as most Republicans were at that time. But after a chance debate with the late Seattle medical marijuana advocate Ralph Seeley, who died in 1998 of a rare bone cancer after suing the state to allow marijuana to be prescribed medically, she changed her mind on the issue. Seeley’s arguments were legitimate, Malkin said, and less than a year after his death Washington voters approved medical marijuana.
“People always ask me, ‘When have you ever changed your mind?’ I tell them, ‘Ralph Seeley changed my mind,’” said Malkin, sitting in a booth at Uncle Sam’s Pancake House in Manitou Springs, where her regular is their corned beef hash with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and wheat toast. “I was on a local public TV debate, and at the time I was a fairly orthodox law-and-order, pro-war on drugs conservative columnist. I would accept at face value anything Bill Bennett had claimed about the war of drugs.”
Note: Bennett is the former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“Of course it’s been an abysmal trillion-dollar failure, and anybody who’s a limited-government conservative can’t ignore the decades-long record of all of this money wasted and how ineffectual it’s been. But going back to the debate with Ralph Seeley: We were on the opposite side of the debate, him in his wheelchair and he had chordoma, an awful degenerative cancer in the spine. He was paralyzed with a trach. He was so articulate, and you couldn’t argue with his facts.”
Just like that Malkin — who jokingly refers to herself on occasion as a “right-wing nut-job” — switched over to the pro-marijuana side of the debate. And nearly two decades after her initial change of heart readers came across her recent “My trip to the pot shop” column on March 25, 2014.
In the column Malkin talks about Seeley and her trip to a pot shop in Pueblo West, where she and her family procured “10 pre-rolled joints, a ‘vape pen’ and two containers of cheddar cheese-flavored marijuana crackers (they were out of brownies).” The goods weren’t for Malkin or her husband Jesse; They were for Jesse’s mom, Carole Malkin, whose melanoma had returned.
“I think she had really hit a low point when she was in the hospital a couple weeks ago,” said Malkin of her mother-in-law Carole. “When we got her out of the hospital and she was able to try different things, including marijuana — she had taken some of those crackers to help with her appetite — we all agreed that it helped her immensely.”
Malkin’s story is a uniquely American tale — one that has seen growth and triumph, adversity and evolution. Her parents came to America from the Philippines in 1970. She was born in Philadelphia and raised between Baltimore and southern New Jersey as her father’s career as a neonatologist took off at Johns Hopkins and the Atlantic City Medical Center.
Malkin attended Oberlin College in Ohio initially as a piano student at the conservatory, but she dropped out after a semester, choosing to focus on communications and the school publication, “which was sort of like the Dartmouth Review — a conservative outpost on a liberal campus,” she said. When an opportunity for a paid internship at NBC News in Washington DC landed right before the 1992 election cycle, she jumped on it.
“You know my politics, so ‘whoooooa,’” she said. “I was there during the ‘92 presidential campaign season, and it was a great time for somebody so young to see how news is manufactured. It was a trip. But Tim Russert was alive, and he was the Washington bureau chief, and he was fabulous. He was obviously a Democrat and left of center, but he was a great overseer. He just had a lot of integrity and intellectual honesty.”
At Oberlin she also met Jesse Malkin, a Dukakis liberal from a family of Berkeley Democrats whose philosophy on free-market economics was leading his personal politics from left to right. As their politics continued to align throughout college, Michelle and Jesse started meeting each other’s families.
“When I met (his parents) for one of the first times, they casually mentioned that they’d voted for Jesse Jackson for president, and I laughed because I thought it was a joke,” Malkin said. “They were completely serious, so we didn’t really talk a lot of politics at the Thanksgiving table in those first few years.”
After Malkin cut her journalistic teeth at the LA Daily News and The Seattle Times throughout the ‘90s, she quit the Times in ‘99, fleshed out her syndication agreement with Creators Syndicate (which places her columns into more than 150 newspapers) and moved east to Washington DC where her husband had been hired as a health economist.
“I quit my job because I wanted to start a family, and I wanted to be at home,” Malkin said.
While she had her first child in June of 2000, she also started talking with Fox News around the same time — and that was a gig that gave her a national platform that changed everything.