Drug Policy

Update on Bob Barr and Drug Policy

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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.