By Dan Bernath

It's too early to guess who our next president will be, but the odds have never been better that whoever it is will have spoken out publicly against federal raids in medical marijuana states.

In fact, every single Democratic candidate has pledged to end DEA raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states that have laws protecting them, as did three Republican candidates, though only Congressman Ron Paul remains in the race.

Considering that public opinion polls consistently indicate as much as 80 percent approval for medical marijuana access for seriously ill patients, getting candidates to take a compassionate stance shouldn't be a big deal. But this is politics.

Still, medical marijuana advocates have come a long way in a short time to force the issue into the national spotlight in the first place, and even further to coax sensible policy statements from candidates.

It was only four years ago that MPP first began actively challenging candidates for the 2004 nomination in New Hampshire to declare their support for the rights of patients to have access to medical marijuana if state laws allowed it.

That year, the fledgling Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana made waves just by spotlighting the issue – one Manchester Union Leader columnist called the group "the most active and most visible" on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

But even though the group had secured public support for patient access to medical marijuana from the eventual Democratic nominee, John Kerry, many of his Democratic opponents were hesitant about the idea of ending federal raids in medical marijuana states, and a couple were openly hostile.

The strides GSMM made in 2003-4 gave this year's efforts momentum in several ways. Not only did the group help turn patient protection from a controversial question in 2003 into a point of general agreement among mainstream Democratic candidates in 2007, but it also helped chart individual candidates' evolution on the issue. John Edwards, for example, voiced support for federal raids in medical marijuana states on several occasions while campaigning for the 2004 nomination. This time around, Edwards told GSMM he would not tolerate federal raids.

Like the other candidates – both Democratic and Republican – who spoke out favorably for the rights of medical marijuana patients, Edwards probably noticed he suffered little, if any, public backlash for expressing his compassion and common sense.

Candidates who insisted on interfering in states with medical marijuana laws, however, found the campaign trail a little rockier this year.

The most famous – and let's face it, the most fun – example had to be Republican candidate Mitt Romney's Oct. 6 encounter with GSMM volunteer Clayton Holton. In a videotaped exchange that aired widely on CNN and YouTube, voters everywhere witnessed an uncomfortable and somewhat panicked Romney retreating from the wheelchair-bound Holton, telling the 80-pound muscular dystrophy patient, "I'm not in favor of medical marijuana being legal in the country."

You would think the other Republican candidates would have taken note of the mini media frenzy Romney created by snubbing a seriously ill man who only wanted to know whether Romney would arrest him and his doctors for treating his symptoms with medical marijuana.

But instead, fellow Republican frontrunners John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee appear locked in a competition to see who can invent the wildest whoppers to rationalize their disregard for patients caught in the middle of the government's war on medical marijuana.

By the way, you can see them all at their prevaricating best at www.granitestaters.com.

Because these candidates have refused to engage medical marijuana advocates in honest, open discussion about federal raids on patients, MPP tried a new approach this year, offering the Republican candidates a $10,000 campaign contribution – the legal maximum – if they could prove their statements about medical marijuana are true.

To be perfectly honest, nobody expects to pay any of these candidates a dime; they haven't been truthful about the issue, and the fact that none of them have even responded to the challenge suggests they probably know it.

It's not too late, however: Last week MPP sweetened the deal by offering to throw in an additional $10,000 contribution to the charity of the candidate's choice if he can prove the veracity of his statements on medical marijuana. The details of our challenge can be found at www.medicalmarijuanaworks.org.

However, the smart money would be for these candidates to reevaluate an irrational stance that forces them to endorse arresting suffering patients because of the medicine their doctors recommend.

That – more than pressure from groups like MPP and GSMM, as well as ordinary voters – is why medical marijuana will continue to haunt candidates who cling to such a cruel, untenable position.

Dan Bernath is the Marijuana Policy Project’s assistant director of communications, www.mpp.org. Email him at dbernath@mpp.org.