Update on Bob Barr and Drug Policy

It looks like Bob Barr's position on medical marijuana is indeed evolving. Steve Gordon, the Libertarian Party's communications director, cites two recent radio show appearances in which Barr said the issue should be left to the states. In an interview yesterday on KFNX in Phoenix, he had the following exchange with host Charles Goyette:

Goyette: ...but I have to assume that as a former U.S. attorney you've been kind of an old-line and maybe even a hard-line drug warrior, and most of us Libertarians think the drug war is foolish and folly.

Barr: There's a lot of room to work on that issue. For example, on the issue of medical marijuana and the states' rights issues involving that. I'm very supportive of states' rights. I am also very supportive the concept of legitimate testing for the use of medical marijuana, and I'm very disappointed that the government has stood in the way of that. So there's a lot of room there. I'm working through some of those individual liberties issues but also believe very strongly that, just as when I was in the Republican Party, I did not agree with everything the Republican Party stood for, everything in its platform, and certainly there's a lot of room in the Libertarian Party for people who have differing views on drugs, or differing views on other issues, and that's the sign of a mature party, that it will accommodate those differences.

The recording of the entire interview is here. Listeners report that Barr made similar comments in a call to Neal Boortz's radio show yesterday. Gordon also passed along the following comments by the Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia, which he said were for public consumption:

I've had the opportunity to meet with former Congressman Bob Barr on two occasions this fall. The conversations were quite interesting (and very civil), given that he was one of the three most problematic members of Congress for my organization since I co-founded MPP 12 years ago. While serving in Congress from 1995 to 2003, he (1) prevented our 1998 medical marijuana initiative from taking effect in D.C., (2) took the anti-medical marijuana position while debating me on  national TV, and (3) grilled me during my testimony before a congressional subcommittee in 2001. In addition, MPP orchestrated civil disobedience in his office on Capitol Hill, whereby a group of activists holding various signs chanted medical marijuana slogans in his office while we laid the body of a medical marijuana patient (with multiple sclerosis) in the doorway so that no one could get in or out.

But that's in the past; he has really come around on drug policy issues. He acknowledges that the drug war is a failure and it cannot be won, he has publicly come out in favor of states' rights for medical marijuana, and he wants to do whatever he can to shrink the size and reach of the federal government, which presumably includes the drug-war bureaucracy (the narcocracy) -- DEA, ONDCP, NIDA. I support the notion of Mr. Barr taking a leadership position with the Libertarian Party; it's a win/win for him and the Party.

It's heartening to hear that Barr is having second thoughts about at least some aspects of the war on drugs. As I've said, his general orientation vis-a-vis civil liberties ought to make him skeptical of the doomed and disastrous effort to separate people from the intoxicants they want. Still, I have to wonder what he'll be arguing with Ethan Nadelmann about when they debate the medical marijuana issue in New York next month.

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  • ||

    As the cliche goes: How do you know a politician is lying...

    Sorry, I'm not buying it. He could come out for full fledged legalization of all drugs and I still would believe he's got a caveat or addendum ready to pull out of his ass.

  • ||

    so what side is he going to take in that debate thats going on in January? Maybe he really will disappoint the sponsors? However, it would be a coup of sorts to really have brought around the most ardent of drug war supporters. But I'm not going to hold my breath until I see something completely unequivical on the subject from him.

  • ||

    Take some NoDoz before going to that debate.

  • I. Self. Divine.||

    I'm with LIT...

  • ||

    Ruthless,

    I've watched an hour of cspan coverage of senate voting, without going comatose. I think i can handle a drug policy debate.

    I have, however, been known to become narcoleptic during Noam Chomsky speeches, so I guess I'm not immune.

  • Warren||

    Me too. No matter what he says at this point, he needs to repent for past sins (contritely, with tears) or it's just so much opportunism.

  • ||

    Warren-How about seppuku?

  • ||

    I am a bit split on Barr, first his stance is weak, to say that mediacal marijuana should be left up to each state is absurd. putting what you want in your body (no matter how stupid it might be) is a human right. States don't get to decide human rights, or at least they shouldn't. Ending the WO(some)D is a basic libertarian issue.

    That being said, if Barr can come around on the issue, and to a certain extent even if he doesn't, he will be very helpful for advancing libertairan causes and ideas (and hey, maybe help win an election or two).

  • ||

    I think that Barr will use medical marijuana "testing" as a cheap cover. That way he can seemingly pay lip service to a libertarian concern without "sending the wrong message" about drug use and without any tangible results (assuming testing was authorized, people are still years away from legally trying to alleviate symptoms with marijuana).

    Besides, even if he "graciously" endorses chemo patients trying to keep food down by smoking pot, he still feels that people using drugs for pleasure is a criminal act.

  • Xaq Fixx||

    I agree with kcjerith. If I wanted smaller government, less taxes, but still wanted government enforced prohibition, and controlled morality I would be a republican.

  • ||

    One of the three most troublesome members...So I'm guessing Souder is another, but who do you think is the third?

  • edna||

    some remarkably adept dancing and weasel words.

  • Warren||

    #6
    That would impress me, but then he'd be useless. Still better than the backstabbing fair-weather friend I suspect he is.

    kcjerith,
    I'm a fairly more-libertarian-than-thou type. Yet I'd be happy with the federalist approach. I'd like to see all recreational drugs regulated like alcohol. For all it's imperfections, I think most people can live with it. If MJ had the same legal status as booze I'd consider it a non-issue. As it is, I think drug prohibition is THE issue, and marijuana the most egregious example.

    And that's another thing, Barr says he thinks there's room to work on medical MJ, but if he can't tow the line on recreational MJ that's still too fascist for me.

  • ||

    Adam W.,
    The third would have been Santorum.

  • ||

    I'm reconsidering my initial 'deal breaker' thoughts on Barr's drug war stance. Not because I think it's any less of a deal breaker, but because it feels like in order to be a serious political party, the LP needs someone who holds obnoxious positions -- someone we vote for only because of the party affiliation next to his name.

    Like Bush. Or Lieberman (sort of).

    Our very own 'I only voted for him because he wasn't the other guy' politician! *sniff* -- it's like the LP is finally growing up!

  • thoreau||

    Our very own 'I only voted for him because he wasn't the other guy' politician! *sniff* -- it's like the LP is finally growing up!

    I said the same thing when I voted for Badnarik. "Well, he's crazy, but he isn't Bush or Kerry, and he has an L behind his name!"

    Seriously, though, if Barr is willing to take a federalist stance on drugs, that's good enough for me, as long as he sticks to the national party and federal races. The 21st amendment, which ended alcohol prohibition at the federal level, only said that alcohol policy would be a state matter. Yet nobody would deny that the 21st amendment had good consequences.

    The debate that he's attending next month could be interesting, if a bunch of prohibitionists come to hear somebody that they assume they'll agree with, and then he turns the tables.

  • ||

    Bob Barr = Gift Horse

    Let's all try to seduce Barr instead of spanking him for past misdeeds. Yes, he's been a naughty, naughty boy but perhaps he shall be able to make amends.

    Interesting fact: MPP founder Kampia was previously an LP candidate for Congress from DC.

  • ||

    Seriously, though, if Barr is willing to take a federalist stance on drugs, that's good enough for me, as long as he sticks to the national party and federal races. The 21st amendment, which ended alcohol prohibition at the federal level, only said that alcohol policy would be a state matter. Yet nobody would deny that the 21st amendment had good consequences.

    If he's willing to express his opposition to all federal drug-war laws and efforts, from the existence of the DEA to federal mandatory minimum laws, then he'll have legitimate cover to argue "state's rights". Until then, it sounds an awful lot like a smokescreen.

  • Anthony||

    Can we stop using "medical" as front to legalize marijuana yet?
    Just legalize the weed for god's sake!

  • ||

    Wait a second -

    I said the same thing when I voted for Badnarik. "Well, he's crazy, but he isn't Bush or Kerry, and he has an L behind his name!"

    So when you kept saying "Kerry would have been worse", you meant it?

  • ||

    certainly there's a lot of room in the Libertarian Party for people who have differing views on drugs

    There is? (Aside from the basic "Yes, please" and "None for me, thanks" positions, that is.)

  • ||

    AHHHHHHH! Stop talking about him! It's making me crazy!!

    Bob Barr is a non-issue. There isn't any room for differing opinions on drug legalization. The "sign of a mature party"? If "maturity" means selling out to get more popular, count me out**

    **I was out already, but still...

  • ||

    Bob Barr:

    ...and certainly there's a lot of room in the Libertarian Party for people who have differing views on drugs, or differing views on other issues, and that's the sign of a mature party.,

    Ok, and thank you for your varied and strong contributions to the cause of individual liberty. But note that the Libertarian Party is known as the "party of principle". And speaking as a Republican who has voted for the LP candidate for president in every election since Reagan; I think that you'll concur with me when I say that we'd be far better off if many more Republicans, especially the almost clueless Bush administration, were more principled and less "mature".

  • ||

    Umm....if people want a moderate drug policy go join the moderate libertarian party, or the repubicrats. Lets us have a moderate approach to a racist policy that destroys our foreign policy, inflates spending, andsends millions of innoncent people to jail. No thanks, while I will be happy with any improvement in the situation, such a medical weed, the LP should keep fighting the regulation of all substances.

  • ||

    hmm, thought about it somemore, ya, let the states decide, that way we can have fifty states fighting this stupid war, yes the 21st admndment put the power into local authories. However, there are still dry counties here in Kansas. Oh yea, I see the states making meth and crack legal, sure. they will just violates the rights of people on more local, get to know more level. hooray for states rights

  • ||

    Monkey,

    Sorry, I'm not prepared to forgive Barr for his promotion of the drug war, any more than I would forgive Byrd for his work in the KKK, or Al Sharpton for promoting racial division.

    -jcr

  • thoreau||

    kcjerith-

    Considering the way that the feds have obstructed even modest reforms like medical pot, and the way that foreign policy (a federal matter) has been infected by the drug war, making the problems abroad even worse, I have no problem saying that devolving drug policy to the states would be a step in the right direction. It would not be paradise, but it would clear away at least a few obstacles to reform, and it would at least alleviate some of the harms that our drug laws do abroad, including war-torn places like Afghanistan and Colombia.

  • ||

    thoreau, you are right it is a step, and decent sized one, in the right direction. But I do not beleive that should be end goal of the LP. I know, take baby steps

  • Sam Franklin||

    My prediction: (assuming Bob Barr stays LP) he will flip flop on the drug stuff over time. I think his previous drug stance was an indication of who was funding him then. I think his stances in the future will affect who is funding him now. i think he has been around the block enuf times to know that you can't insult the money. He is changing his position slowly so that it looks like the product of reflection and thought. I don't mean to pick on Bob Barr -- that is just what politicians do, they represent the people who give them money. I am glad that Bob Barr has switched funding sources to sources that see things more like I do. Bob Barr is likely to be a more effective politician-advocate than we have seen in the past.

    these drug debates help too, because then Bob Barr can say in a year:

    "Ya know I used to be behind the war on drugs -- I would even take that position in discussions within the LP. Then a funny thing happened. I started listening to what all these bright young libertarian voters were trying to tell me. Yadda yadda yadda, vote Barr."

  • ||

    Why is everyone bickering over Barr. Why would anyone think more of him "now," if he changes his mind all of a sudden. Should he just be absolved of all that he has done to promote the WoD. What a great fucking gig these politicians really have. They can spend half their political lives arguing for one position until they are washed up and then switch positions and parties for the 2nd half of their career and argue those.

    In the end they have had a nice long career in politics enjoying all the benefits, pension plans and health care. And in the end 40 years later the voters will be scratching their heads wondering why not a god damn mother fucking thing has changed and why we are now 2 necks deep in fucked up policies.

    Buy hey lets put a politician back in office with a new uniform from his new team! GO TEAM!!

    How about finding someone NEW for instance. Recycling old politicians is not going to get anyone anywhere. No one except the politician that is.

    Once they are gone we should help make damn sure they stay gone. If these people had any answers after all these years why haven't they come out with them? Perhaps if we elect them AGAIN then THIS TIME they will work ther magic and fix it all. I contend that those who have been in office have a record behind them of their actions just as a criminal has a record of his crimes. Do we forgive past instances of criminals or do we pull out their record and say lets see what we have here? If someone has been a career criminal for 30 years whats the odds they will suddenly become a Cop? Those in office for long periods are not the answer to any problems, they are in fact the problem iteself.

  • ||

    Oh and I almost forgot after they have spent all that time working as public servants they go on to become lobbiest! Yep quite the gig if you can get it.

  • ||

    Supporting medical marijuana initiatives may be more compassionate than the complete prohibitionist position, but it's not more libertarian. Either way, the state decides what is and what is not medicine, and who is a legitimate patient.

  • Sam Franklin||

    Supporting medical marijuana initiatives may be more compassionate than the complete prohibitionist position, but it's not more libertarian. Either way, the state decides what is and what is not medicine, and who is a legitimate patient.

    I think libertarianism can recognize matters of degree a little more than this response does. Ayn Rand did not seem to be able to think in non-absolute terms, and she was a dear, but not all libertarians are cut from absolutist, fundamentalist cloth.

  • ||

    Dee said, "What a great fucking gig these politicians really have. They can spend half their political lives arguing for one position until they are washed up and then switch positions and parties for the 2nd half of their career and argue those."

    Much like soap-opera actors or professional wrestlers. This is why I was so impressed by the honesty of Jesse Ventura's campaign. There is no better metaphor for modern politics than professional wrestling. Ventura was just reifying the metaphor.

  • ||

    John C. Randolph | December 21, 2006, 11:48pm | #
    Monkey,

    Sorry, I'm not prepared to forgive Barr for his promotion of the drug war, any more than I would forgive Byrd for his work in the KKK, or Al Sharpton for promoting racial division.

    -jcr
    ==========================================

    We must never forget the many innocent (or, if technically "guilty," still basically harmless) people who have been wronged, injured, or even killed -- either in the crossfire or directly by the authorities -- as "collateral damage" in the War on Drugs. Any "war" is a great evil, and this one is no exception.

    If Bob Barr looked straight in the camera and spoke the names of some of those who were wrongly killed in the War on Drugs, and then went on to say that the purpose in which he once believed was not worth those deaths -- that conscience demands we find another, better way to deal with the real problems of drug abuse -- I might provisionally believe him and accord him a modicum of trust. But I would also verify.

  • ||

    monkey | December 21, 2006, 7:34pm | #
    Bob Barr = Gift Horse

    Let's all try to seduce Barr instead of spanking him for past misdeeds. Yes, he's been a naughty, naughty boy but perhaps he shall be able to make amends.
    ==============================================

    Two comments:

    1. A common speculation:
    Bob Barr = Trojan Horse

    2. Is anyone else amused that a Monkey is talking about spanking on H&R?

  • ||

    So, did Bob Barr sign the non-initiation of force certification along with his life-membership?

  • ||

    I can perhaps forgive Mr. Barr for his former support for the drug war if in fact he now supports the right to people to self medicate as they see fit.

    However, worse in my book is the fact that in 1999 Mr. Barr spearheaded a new wave of persecution against Wiccans and pagans. He went to far as to encourage citizens not to enlist or reenlist in the military so long as the military allows pagan worship services on military installations. Mr Barr has no respect for the rights and freedoms of others people if they differ from his own. He is NOT a Libertarian.

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