This last week, conservative Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) exhorted his fellow Republicans to support decriminalizing MJ in DC:
The fundamental principles are individual liberty, which Republicans have always talked about; limited government, which Republicans have always talked about; the doctor-patient relationship, which, of course, we have been stressing a lot about lately; and of course, states’ rights.
Check, check, check on the GOP values list. Then there’s the fiscal benefit:
Some of us have come to the conclusion that it is counterproductive to the people of this country to have our limited resources, we’re $500 billion in debt every year .?.?. to put in jail someone who is smoking a weed in their back yard, or especially for medical purposes. It is a total waste of resources.
While Democrats have become the stodgy progressives, whom H. L. Mencken condemned as grumps who fret over anyone having fun, Republicans can show their fun side, consistent with their values, and engage a reform which will cost no money. Rohrabacher also invited his Republicans to take up the issue for “raw politics”, if not for the extended philosophical reasons.
He is not alone. US Senator Rand Paul has advocated for defederalizing the issues, allowing the states to decide for themselves how to regulate weed and other screeds. New Jersey US Senate candidate Steve Lonegan (in the 2013 special election) listed decriminalization on his platform.
I also agree with Rohrabacher’s position. Like the Congressman, I am a California Conservative, although I don’t surf on weekends (too busy surfing the Net). I do not wear lava-lava shirts (professional attire is a must). I am strongly conservative on the social issues (an extremist to those elitist West LA Dems), although I believe that conservatives should stop arguing their views based on left-wing talking points, since all societal questions are moral issues which en masse equalization cannot fix. I am a small “l” libertarian, pro-life, pro-marriage (one man and one woman). I also support decriminalizing controlled substances like marijuana, heroin, etc.
I also understand people’s fear about getting the government out of prosecution of use/abuse/distribution of controlled substances. I was one of them. If we take away the criminal sanctions for drug use, aren’t we basically saying it’s OK to smoke MJ?
The Dean of Conservatism, staunch Catholic William F. Buckley disagreed, and outlined the benefits of decriminalization, while reducing concern about negative consequences. Read Buckley’s interview on the subject with Richard Heffner here. Buckley In summary: Just because a society does not sanction something does not mean that the community condones or encourages it. Free Market economist Milton Friedman justified decriminalization as a moral measure. Among the benefits he listed for this reform included fewer prisons, government restriction on incarceration, and greater opportunities for inner cities to recover from economic and moral blight.
Still, It took more than Buckley and Friedman to change my mind, though. While studying at UC Irvine, I met Judge Jim Gray of Orange County, CA (same region as Congressman Rohrabacher). Lecturing in a course called “Contemporary Legal Issues”, he outlined the failure of the War on Drugs, the illicit profiteering of criminal enterprises, cottage industries, and third-world countries, then offered compelling examples in countries where decriminalization had occurred, yet endured without serious consequences. Even though I remained skeptical, his arguments from anecdote to comprehensive measures were compelling.
Plenty of evidence does affirm that decriminalizing controlled substances does not lead to a lawless society descending into a green hazy of frenzied law-breaking. The Cato Institute published a white paper on Portugal’s successful drug policy reforms. Ten years later, Forbes magazine reported on the ongoing benefits of the program, especially the decrease in drug use.
Here in the United States, Washington and Colorado liberalized restrictions on MJ recreational use. Despite a rocky start, the Rocky Mountain High in Colorado has not turned out as bad as critics had feared. Drug use is down, crime is down, revenues are up, and private businesses are obeying the law, licensed without peddling the drug to minors.
Of course, these outcomes are not necessarily surprising. President Richard Nixon had appointed the Shafer Commission to investigate the crimes and causation associated with Marijuana, and the possible controls to remedy the problem. The final report, The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, suggested that instead of intense criminalization then prosecution of drug possession and use, diversions, therapy, and limited regulation would reduce the long-term negative consequences of drug use.
Marihuana's relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it. This judgment is based on prevalent, use patterns, on behavior exhibited by the vast majority of users and on our interpretations of existing medical and scientific data. This position also is consistent with the estimate by law enforcement personnel that the elimination of use is unattainable.
Not incarceration, but persuasion and diversion should be the rule on drug use, according to the Shafer Commission. Nixon rejected those findings, yet the unfortunate consequences of an enormous government bureaucracy, plus the increased cost and illicit prevalence of controlled substances have affirmed the failure of the War on Drugs.
With decriminalization of MJ, Republicans have a winning issue to coalesce the youth vote and maintain libertarian GOP loyalties. Relaxing the laws on controlled substances, especially from the federal government, would promote Republican principles on free markets and individual liberty, defund lawless bureaucracies, strengthen states’ rights, and put President Obama in a bad bind should he veto such legislation during the final two years of his administration. Even USA Today Contributor Glenn Reynolds agrees.
Shouldn’t the rest of us? Rohrabacher’s recommendations should not be ignored.