Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, who endorsed Amendment 64, his state's marijuana legalization initiative, was so sure it would fail that he made a bet with Adam Hartle, a documentarian covering the issue. If this thing passes, the conservative Republican told Hartle, I will smoke pot for the first time in my life. Amendment 64 won by a 10-point margin, and last week Tancredo said he intended to follow through on his promise. But now ABC News reports that Tancredo, "under pressure from his wife and grandchildren," is reneging. Even while backing out of the bet, saying he does not want to send the wrong message to the youth of America, Tancredo highlighted his libertarian turn on drug policy:
My conservative friends just believe what I'm doing is encouraging people to smoke it. I don't think people should. That decision is up to an individual. An adult, in this society, is not something the government should have any control over.
Similarly, when he announced his support for Amendment 64 in a September 21 op-ed piece published by the Colorado Springs Gazette, Tancredo not only cited the futility and cost of marijuana prohibition but also said this:
In addition to the economic and public safety arguments for ending marijuana prohibition, I also support Amendment 64 for a much broader, philosophical reason.
Marijuana prohibition is perhaps the oldest and most persistent nanny-state law we have in the U.S. We simply cannot afford a government that tries to save people from themselves. It is not the role of government to try to correct bad behavior, as long as those behaviors are not directly causing physical harm to others.
Tancredo has been moving in this direction for years. As a member of Congress from 1999 through 2008, he repeatedly supported legislation aimed at denying the Justice Department funding for medical marijuana raids. Seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he described his position as a matter of federalist principle:
It's not about marijuana, it's about states' rights. The federal government has no right to interfere when a state makes that kind of decision...The federal government should stay the hell out of it.
Tancredo and Ron Paul were the only Republican presidential candidates that year to receive an A+ grade from Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana. The following year, in a speech to a Colorado Republican group, Tancredo questioned the war on drugs in general, saying, "I am convinced that what we are doing is not working." He voiced support for marijuana legalization on pragmatic grounds that same year. Nowadays, even if he declines to smoke pot, Tancredo is defending the right to do so for explicitly libertarian reasons that apply to all illegal drugs, not to mention myriad other things that are restricted or prohibited on paternalistic grounds.
Tancredo is chairman of the Rocky Mountain Foundation, which includes a Center for Individual Liberty that criticizes the war on drugs. Tancredo's stance on immigration, as you may recall, is a bit less libertarian.