Pot pol

George W.'s Silicon Valley point man, Tim Draper, isn't quiet about legalizing marijuana.

Published October 13, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Tim Draper has co-chaired three fund-raisers for George W. Bush, raising a total that he estimates at about $1 million. He's also launched a full-bore e-mail campaign, hitting much of Silicon Valley with a chain letter that solicited campaign contributions for the Texas governor -- and asked recipients to pass it on to five or 10 acquaintances of their own. He has sat on the California Board of Education, and his father, Tim Draper Sr., was an official in both the Reagan and Bush administration.

You might think that, if Draper, George W.'s point man in Silicon Valley, supported legalizing marijuana, he might be discreet about it.

You'd be wrong. He does support legalizing pot -- not just medical marijuana, but just plain old marijuana, marijuana used for the sole purpose of getting high and giggling a lot. And he's not discreet about it at all.

"Medical marijuana?" Draper asks. "As soon as you say 'medical,' that's already a government rule. Why not just allow it to happen? Why not just allow people to use it?"

"I'm just speaking for myself here," Draper adds. "I haven't asked George W. about it."

I haven't asked George W. about it either, but it's a safe bet that if George W. was pushing a "Legalize It!" plank for the Republican platform, we would have heard about it.

Among venture capitalists -- the money men of Silicon Valley -- Democratic boosters like John Doerr have been more prominent and more widely heard, but Bush has a number of valley supporters. The Republican Party has eagerly courted Silicon Valley. Even before Bush had announced his candidacy, 50 prominent technology executives and financiers announced their support in a full-page advertisement in the San Jose Mercury News.

There's a problem here for the Republicans, however: while on economic issues the fervent libertarianism that is fashionable in Silicon Valley fits in perfectly with the party's traditional laissez-faire positions, on social issues that same libertarianism could make its Silicon Valley supporters a very peculiar fit with the party's more conservative wing.

"Silicon Valley," says Draper, "could swing either way depending on which candidate it recognizes as the best for freedom. If freedom on economic issues is more important to people in Silicon Valley, they will tend toward the Republicans. If freedom on social issues is more important, it might go for Democrats."

It is unlikely that the voices of a few Silicon Valley fund-raisers will turn George W. into a friend of the recreational drug user, but it is probably useful for the Republican party to note the powerful libertarian streak among the Silicon Valley chieftains who will surely be some of the party's power brokers in the future.

And whatever one feels about legalizing pot, there is no more tempting target for a political fund-raiser than a technology millionaire with a cell phone in one hand and a joint in the other.

By Mark Gimein

Mark Gimein is a staff writer for Salon Technology.

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Drugs George W. Bush Republican Party Silicon Valley