Cannabis Legalization: A Conservative Ideal

Over at the Huffington Post, Kevin Armento argues that the legalization of cannabis is an issue that fits perfectly with the stated goal of conservatives: a minimalist federal government which respects the rights of individuals to live their own lives however they choose.  One must not drift much further than Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed to become awash in personal-rights rhetoric: objections to government-funded stimulus, health care reform, and communitarian economic policy abound.  Between the Obama administration — a group that doesn’t exactly shy away from federal power — and the Tea Party, this message is gaining steam among people all over the country.

But it’s funny: I must have missed Palin’s endorsement of a legal, regulated cannabis market.  Sure, she was offered a chance to give one — hell, she even smoked (and inhaled) the good stuff herself back in the day — but it appears she’s decided that it’s a goal she doesn’t support.  Which is odd; like Armento points out, cannabis prohibition undermines the very core of the conservative message.  It represents a decision by the government regarding what an individual can do with his own body and mind — a paternalist, for-your-own-good fatwa against a specific minor alteration in blood chemistry.  It’s a policy that calls for the massive accumulation and deployment of government resources in a stubborn effort to prevent a private lifestyle choice.

Of course, even if mealy-mouthed “neocons” choose to ignore the theoretical objections, cannabis prohibition remains an unmitigated disaster from a pragmatic standpoint.  With over three quarters of a million marijuana arrests each year — the lion’s share of which are for minor possession — and unfathomable amounts spent on everything from police investigations to court time to imprisonment to parole, what do we have?  For one thing, we have better pot; an explosion of high-powered boutique strains widely available all over the country.  We have per-gram street prices that are as cheap as ever.  We have a national security emergency south of the border, for which the marijuana trade is the main source of funding.  We have a culture that is obsessed with cannabis, despite ever-increasing sentences and interdiction efforts.  And we have an incarceration crisis — characterized by rampant systemic racism –that is literally tearing apart the fabric of our country, especially our urban centers.  Even if we buy the paternalist argument that we need to be protected from our own desire to use cannabis, it’s hard to see how any of this constitutes any sort of “protection” from anything.

Palin and other so-called “conservatives” typically respond that to legalize cannabis would “send a bad message”.  They claim that legalization would cause children to abandon any and all objections to cannabis use, and that a nationwide wave of underage intoxication would follow.  This ignores, of course, the fact that cannabis is currently much easier for the average high school student to obtain than our legal recreational substances.  There is no child in our country who can’t get his or her hands on marijuana; moving to a regulated system in which purchases required a valid ID would surely make it more difficult for kids to obtain cannabis.  Besides that, it is not the job of our government to be concerned with “sending messages”.  Our elected officials should concern themselves with developing the most effective public policies which fit within the framework of our Constitution, and nothing more.  The task of sending messages should be left to the private institutions long trusted to do so — most importantly parents.

As Armento points out, there are some intellectually consistent conservatives who have publicly backed the legalization of cannabis for recreational use.  Kevin mentions both Judge James Gray from California, and attorney Jessica Corry from Colorado.  Both have done fantastic work on the issue and, I’m sure, have opened the eyes of many on the right who were previously closed-minded.  There are also important Republicans on the national scene who favor legalization: there is of course Ron Paul, and New Mexico’s Gary Johnson, a possible candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.  In fact, in this sense the Republican Party is at least as principled as the Democrats, many of whom refuse to even address drug policy after being politically derided by “tough-on-crime” conservatives for the past 30 years.

But it’s time for cannabis legalization to be recognized as the conservative ideal it represents — among politicians, among the media, among Tea Partiers, etc.  If you’re concerned about limiting the size and scope of our government, if you feel that the principles and rights for which our founders fought so dearly are worthwhile, if you believe that personal choices are better left to individuals, the choice should be clear: support an end to this Big Government farce of a prohibition, whenever and however you can.  There is nothing “conservative” about cannabis prohibition, and there never was.

4 Responses to “Cannabis Legalization: A Conservative Ideal”
  1. Danielle says:

    Doubt they’ll get on board with the whole “prohibition interferes with what one can do with one’s own body.” Abortion, anyone? They seem to prefer limiting what we can do with our bodies, so to me, it makes sense to support prohibition.-I mean from their point of view, not mine.

  2. Danielle says:

    Ugh, I meant to add in great post, I didn’t want my comment to come across as arguing with you or anything.

  3. rhayader27510 says:

    Hey thanks Danielle — and yes you’re right, there are plenty of other policy areas in which conservatives and Republicans hypocritically ignore their supposed affinity for individual rights. Of course, there are also plenty of instances in which Democrats are willing to look the other way on abuses of civil liberties and deprivation of equal protection at the hands of the government. Unfortunately the political climate values cronyism and back-scratching a whole lot more than integrity and intellectual consistency.

  4. Danielle says:

    I agree. I think it’ll be easier to get that message to Democrat/liberal leaning people, who already believe in “it’s a personal choice, isn’t doing harm” for other areas, such as gay marriage, abortion, etc, but who may be iffy on the idea of weed legalization. I bet there’s plenty who have just never thought about it in that way, or who haven’t yet had the opportunity to disspel (sp?) all the pot myths they got throughout their life. I see too many people who i agree with politically, but then it turns out they think marijuana is worse than alcohol or what have you. I bet with more education, and people’s willingness to listen, we can get them on our side, which is AWESOME.

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    Editor: Joseph Klare (The Pothead Pundit)
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