As a Libertarian, I will agree with the conservative movement on 90% of all issues. I agree that we need a smaller government, lower taxes, more secure borders, strong stance against terrorism. I also feel that the First & Second Amendments are under attack. Christianity and gun laws are, in my opinion, being unfairly targeted. Additionally I consider education to be an issue for the states and I will forever stand up against Common Core and top-down government interference into our lives. However, I feel that if we’re going to be for liberty and individual freedom, there is no good reason why these freedoms should not extend to the bedroom and to the medicine cabinet. This is why I support same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana. I’m all for lower taxes and smaller government, but if we’re going to be for those principles, we have to go all the way with that thought – we cannot cherry pick which natural rights to uphold and wish to banish based on some code of morality.
I will attempt to lay out the case that favoring an end to drug prohibition is the right thing to do BECAUSE of Conservative principles, NOT in spite of them. I not suggesting that we should abandon our principles in order to oppose drug prohibition. Quite the opposite – I think that the principles that we were founded on, and the principles of conservatism that we fight for every day should in actuality COMPEL us to OPPOSE drug prohibition. Supporting the legalization of marijuana, an end to the War On Drugs, abolishing of the DEA and repeal of the Controlled Substances Act is entirely consistent with conservative principles, and is something we should champion. If a liberal opposed drug legalization, then while I wouldn’t agree with it, at least they’d be consistent, since the left likes top-down government regulation and nanny state laws. We’re supposed to be better than that!
I feel that if you are for states’ rights, liberty and personal freedom, and are not willing to extend those rights to people who want to marry the one they love, and give patients the right to choose medical treatments without Federal government interference, this is to me an inconsistent position. It’s one thing to sit on the sideline. There are many who, while they don’t support full legalization, do respect states’ rights and are at the very least willing to consider medical legalization. That’s something that I can simply “agree to disagree” with. But many conservative groups are openly attacking any type of legalization. I find this to be a very disturbing stance. What draws me and many Libertarians to the Conservative cause is our common goal for a free society, less government regulation and more personal freedom. That’s something that Libertarians and Conservatives have in common. Legalizing drugs is a natural progression for our principles if we follow them all the way through. I want to be on the right side, I want to stand up to defeat Progressivism. But the reason many Libertarians like myself can’t get fully on board is, pardon my saying so, this stubborn and moral high-horse insistence on preserving antiquated and draconian laws that have no place in a free society.
So with that said, I will outline what I feel are the biggest anti-marijuana arguments (and my rebuttals), and follow up with my own list of reasons (entirely from a conservative and constitutional point of view) why we should legalize.
#1: “Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use.”
Accepted by whom? The government? This is at best a vague statement. It doesn’t say that the government or even physicians have to accept medical use (though many thousands of doctors do). There are enough case studies to, if nothing else, show that there is plausibly a benefit. How can we claim that marijuana has no medical benefit and should remain on Schedule I, while such scheduling prohibits exactly the type of research that is required to SHOW medical benefit in the first place? Meanwhile other drugs like alcohol have even less benefit, yet these are widely available in every supermarket. How is this logical?
#2: “But it’s dangerous and addictive…”
Guns can be dangerous, alcohol can be dangerous and addictive, yet as conservatives we don’t bat an eye at them. I am not anti-second Amendment or for alcohol prohibition. Dangerous, addictive, potential for abuse – these are subjective terms. Drinking a six-pack can be addictive. Doing so and getting behind the wheel of a car is dangerous. Alcohol is a drug. It has no medical benefits, has a high potential for addiction and abuse, can be dangerous, and should be kept away from kids. Yet it’s perfectly legal and (correctly) no one in their right mind would attack alcohol the way that our society attacks marijuana. A pure double-standard.
#3: “But we need to keep it out of the hands of children…”
I agree, but again, just like alcohol, we CAN do that without total prohibition. In states where pot has been legalized, buying it is very much like buying liquor – you get carded to make sure you’re 21 before you’re allowed on the sales floor. Yet children DO get hold of alcohol now. How about we let parents handle this? How about we have parents teaching their children about the facts of marijuana use, in the same way we teach them now about responsible gun use and being responsible with alcohol? Yes marijuana SHOULD be kept away from children except under strict medical supervision. It can impair thinking, slow the brain. Driving with it is dangerous. It is subject to abuse and can ruin people’s lives if done so. All that is true about liquor as well, yet we tried banning alcohol in the 1920s. How did that work out? Have we as freedom-loving Americans learned NOTHING from prohibition? I really thought it was the progressive left who wanted to leave parenting to top-down government agencies. We’re supposed to be better than that! It seems to me that this argument justifies banning a substance entirely just to keep it out of the hands of a few. Liquor, guns, prescription drugs – we’ve all found ways to work with these, we have reasonable precautions in place to make sure that the wrong people don’t get hold of them. None of these are guaranteed, but if we truly wanted a completely safe society, we’d have to ban alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, cars, airplanes, and any type of industry. Sometimes you play the cost-benefit analysis and realize that we’re simply overreacting. Of course recreational marijuana should be kept from children, I’m fully on board with that. It can stunt mental growth and cause harm, and I don’t think that kids should get it unless it’s a last-resort medical treatment, but a blanket ban on a drug just so a segment of the population doesn’t get it? That’s what the left says about the Second Amendment. There are plenty of other things that we need to prevent kids from acquiring and we manage those just fine. Of course they’re not perfect, but at what point to we put on our big-boy pants and realize that we just can’t protect the entire world from itself without taking away freedom? If we’re so concerned with the example that we’re setting for our children, I would turn that around and say that what example is prohibition setting? Kids are smart, they know that marijuana will not turn them into some zombie terrorist with one puff. They see right through that. All we’re teaching them is that we claim to stand for freedom… as long as we agree with those freedoms. There’s no difference between that and the left wanting to quash free speech that THEY disagree with.
#4: “Drugs lead to crime and dangerous drug trafficking and cartels.”
This is in my opinion an illogical statement and a self-fulfilling prophecy. The reason that drug cartels exist is BECAUSE it’s illegality creates a black market. Drug trafficking exists BECAUSE of prohibition – we don’t have problem with bootlegging and moonshining anymore because since liquor is legal. If a drug was legalized and/or decriminalized, the black market would dry up overnight because trafficking and smuggling would no longer be profitable.
#1: It’s a Constitution and states’ rights issue.
At the very least, federal drug scheduling is, in my admittedly non-professional opinion, a violation of the Tenth Amendment. There is simply nothing in the Constitution that gives the Federal government the authority to regulate non-violent personal habits. The very existence of the Controlled Substances Act is a direct overreach of Federal authority. Nowhere is this power enumerated to the Federal government in the U.S. Constitution. At most, deciding whether to legalize or criminalize any substance should be on the state level. To quote Congressman Ron Paul, “According to the Constitution, legislation regarding drug use and abuse is a State level issue. The issue is not addressed specifically in the text of the U.S. Constitution, so it falls under the broad umbrella of powers that our Founders “left to the States and the people” in the 10th Amendment.” Five of the top ten conservative U.S. Senators (according to the Conservative Review) rate C or B on the norml.org Congressional scorecard – while they may not personally be comfortable with legalization, they’re at the very least willing to consider medical use, decriminalization, or simply watching what happens in WA, AK, OR, and CO and letting the states decide for themselves.
#2: It’s a personal freedom issue
Our nation was founded on liberty and freedom and the right to pursue happiness. Drug laws, just like education, are in my opinion the sole purview of the states under the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment. We conservatives are supposed to value freedom, not take it away. I’m not a fan of cannabis, I will stipulate that it can do harm to people who consume it, but shouldn’t responsible adults be able to choose for themselves? Why is it any of the government’s business what consenting adults put in their own body? To me the argument should end right there. Staunch opponents claim that marijuana is somehow bad for society. Can we be a tad more specific? That sounds like high-horse moralism to me. Yes it’s fine for us to have our beer and our guns but we have decided that you should be denied your own vices! I think we as a nation have had enough of “Reefer Madness.” Again I would completely understand if conservatives in this country don’t actively advocate for drug legalization. But when you openly attack it that is not something I can reconcile with my beliefs. What happened to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, that we have freedoms as long as we own up to the possible consequences. The top down control that is the DEA scheduling laws, the nanny state intrusion of the government – this is stuff I would expect to hear from the Progressive left, not from patriots who claim to be for freedom! Why do we oppose Obamacare? Because (among other reasons) we don’t think that the government should have anything to do with medical decisions – yet when you oppose legalization on the grounds of harmful effects, you are saying just that – we can tell you not to take something because it’s bad for you. Though I obviously can’t know this for sure, I would be willing to bet that the Founding Fathers would not have approved of laws like the Controlled Substances Act. My #1 President of all time was Thomas Jefferson, and I can almost guarantee he is turning in his grave to see such a blatant overreach of centralized power.
#3: What exactly does “accepted medical use” mean anyway?
Shouldn’t parents have the right to choose a medical treatment for their children, done under close clinical supervision? The tide is turning in America. What are the FDA and DEA but large overpowering federal bureaucracies? Why should we reduce or remove the IRS, the EPA, or the DOE, and tell Americans that they can have guns but they can’t marry who they want and consume what they want? This is cherry-picking, wanting to preserve rights that you like, and quash rights for things you don’t like. When I see conservative organizations advocate for drug scheduling, I see a desire for top-down government control, of nanny state regulation. That is not what conservatism is about for me.
#4: True fiscal conservatism demands it.
We claim to be in favor of smaller government, and reduced spending. We don’t like it when Federal bureaucracies overreach into the private lives of Americans. What are the FDA and DEA but Federal bureaucracies? How can we justify spending billions per year on a futile and unnecessary “war on drugs?” How can we claim to be fiscally conservative, yet fine with wasting billions per year chasing, arresting, prosecuting, and jailing otherwise law-abiding citizens for nothing more that possessing a natural plant? To support the War on Drugs is to support top-down big government spending and control. Again, this is an argument I’d expect to hear from the Progressive left, not patriots like us.
#5: Free-market capitalism
We claim to be in favor of a free market and job creation, yet we would stifle growth in an area where it’s been shown (ironically it can’t be scientifically proven only because studies can’t be done while on Schedule I) that this drug very possibly does have medical benefit for cancer patients, epileptics, depression and anxiety. Marijuana is a billion-dollar market that creates jobs, revenue, and tax revenue. In Colorado in 2015, license fees and taxes alone generated $135 million in public revenue. Washington raised over $1 billion over the past four years. $250 million per year. Multiply that by 50 and you have $12.5 billion in tax revenue alone! In 2010 alone, the U.S. Government spent $15 billion in drug enforcement. That would be a net difference of $27.5 billion, and since the black market has dried up, I would argue that America would be SAFER (and richer) than before.
#6: The American people want it.
Americans, particularly younger voters, are getting sick and tired of the War on Drugs. A 2015 Gallup Poll shows that 58% of Americans back legal marijuana use. This includes 71% of 18-34 year olds, and 65% of those 35-49. These are not fringe groups – we’re getting tired of useless prohibition. Opposing full legalization and decriminalization is like trying to hold back a boulder rolling downhill.
Unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington deciding whether or not citizens can be “allowed” to choose what they put in their own body? How much more draconian can you get? This sounds like a leftist top-down government nanny-state point of view, not something coming from people who value liberty and freedom.