Pot Prohibitionist at CPAC Says He Is 'Fighting Against the Tide'

CPACCPACYesterday The Atlantic's Molly Ball attended a debate about marijuana legalization at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and came away convinced that critics of the war on drugs are ascendant within the conservative movement. The debate pitted conservative blogger and Fox News commentator Mary Katharine Ham against Christopher Beach, a producer for former drug czar Bill Bennett's radio show. Ball reports that the discussion "turned out to be surprisingly one-sided," with the audience, or at least the most vocal parts of it, overwhelmingly in favor of legalization, the position taken by Ham. Ball acknowledges that CPAC skews young and libertarian, but she says Beach told her he typically gets a hostile response when he defends prohibition in the company of fellow conservatives. "There used to be a strong conservative coalition opposed to drugs, but it's dissipated in the face of mounting public support for legalization," Beach says. "We're fighting against the tide on this."

To longtime opponents of the war on drugs, those are pretty startling words. Back in the 1980s, when I started writing about drug prohibition, Gallup found that less than a quarter of Americans thought marijuana should be legal. My own father wanted to know whether I really believed what I was saying or was just in it for the money. I am not sure which answer would have been worse from his perspective. Eventually he decided that advocating drug legalization was a respectable position, since it had attracted support from serious people like Milton Friedman and Bill Buckley. Today he mails me clippings about medical marijuana from Israeli newspapers.

My father, who will turn 89 this year, is part of "the only age group that still opposes legalizing marijuana," according to a Gallup poll conducted last fall. Overall support for legalization was 58 percent in that poll, and the breakdown by age went like this:

18 to 29: 67 percent

30 to 49: 62 percent

50 to 64: 56 percent

65+: 45 percent

The results were similar in a CNN poll conducted in January:

Two-thirds of those 18 to 34 said marijuana should be legal, with 64% of those 34 to 49 in agreement.

Half of those 50 to 64 believe marijuana should be legal, but that number dropped to 39% for those age 65 and older.

According to Gallup, only 35 percent of Republicans favor marijuana legalization, meaning they are more inclined to support pot prohibition than retirees are. As Ball observes, this situation creates a dilemma for the Republican Party:

The situation closely parallels the party's predicament on gay marriage, which most Republicans still oppose even as widening majorities of the broader public support it.

It adds up to a quandary for the GOP: Should it embrace the unpopular position still disproportionately favored by its members and risk marginalization as a result? Or will the burgeoning conservative voices in favor of legalization win out? Simply put, do Republicans want to be on the losing side of yet another culture war?

It will be interesting to see how they answer that question. In the meantime, I am trying to get used to the weird feeling of swimming with the tide.

[Thanks to March Sandhaus for the tip.]

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Simply put, do Republicans want to be on the losing side of yet another culture war?

    Recent history would suggest that they do.

  • Winston||

    When did libertarians care about GOP electability? And it's not like the GOP caving on the New Deal and the Great Society was all that great either.

  • The Unknown Pundit||

    Recent history would suggest that they do.

    One only has to spend a few minutes perusing FreeRepublic or TownHall to see this is the case. I can't figure out whether the Republican Party and conservatism is a political movement or is it really a religious movement masquerading as a political movement.

    I made a post at TownHall on Wednesday in response to an article at TownHall two days ago. It was titled Reagan Was Right, ACU Wrong: Atheism Is Enemy of America by Terry Jeffrey.

    Can conservatives do outreach or what?

    I made a comment to the article similar to what I did in this comment, basically stating that it was my opinion that the overt religiosity displayed by conservatives has damaged the brand. Here is part of the response I got from a poster there:

    The conservative brand is damaged from the incursion of Keynesianism, members of Americas Ruing Class, and progressivism. These problems would be lessened, and therefore the brand improved, by the participants stopping their action wherein they are acting like functional atheists, and started acting more like they really recognize our God as He is. (Bolding done by me)

    In reply, I said I was grateful to him for proving my point.

  • Judi Sunshine||

    "Simply put, do Republicans want to be on the losing side of yet another culture war?" Well put!

  • Winston||

    If libertarians were concerned about being on the "winning side" then why are they libertarians?

  • Tamfang||

    We don't have to share a motive to observe that a position is inconsistent with that motive (which a political party presumably has).

  • Brandon||

    Republicans could just make their official stance "we don't generally agree with drug use, but we don't want to fund a massive federal bureaucracy to enforce prohibition, because, you know, we're supposed to be the small government party." Seems like a win-win.

  • SIV||

    CPAC skews young and libertarian,

    Republicans who smoke pot.

  • sloopyinca||

    Republicans that will vote for a Democrat when the GOP puts shitheaded SoCon warriors on the ballots.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Today he mails me clippings about medical marijuana from Israeli newspapers.

    This brings to mind that Esurance commercial.

  • DWC||

    Does anyone have any idea what the actual agenda is with people like "pot prohibitionists". Does it have it's roots in the puritanical hatred for pleasure?

  • sloopyinca||

    It's "for the kids" bullshit.

  • ||

    Yes, and love of the jackboot.

  • Robert||

    The agenda now is not what it was originally. Most pot prohibitionism today stems from a desire to stick it to the hippies who wanted to stick it to the man.

  • GILMORE||

    "My own father wanted to know whether I really believed what I was saying or was just in it for the money."

    ..."Me, I do it for that sweet Koch paycheck, the hot chicks, the danger, the rush, the excitement, the rock & roll... you'll never understand dad.... I'm..... not like you...."

  • Jayburd||

    Swimming towards Gomorrah.

  • Tamfang||

    It must be rough to lose one's Embattled Contrarian credentials.

  • Foster Rainmaker||

    Ball is fighting against common sense. Still not one reported overdose from using marijuana. Yet we are suppose to believe this guy stands for 'liberty for all?' What a load of crap. Go back to the hole you crawled out of. Your antiquated propaganda of draconian drug laws has failed. Individual freedom won out on this one. Done.

  • Foster Rainmaker||

    This 'guy' is a chick. I stand corrected. Peace and love.

  • Foster Rainmaker||

    Beach* not 'Ball.' Done x3. Happy trails.

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