Fusion or Confusion?


Here is what happens when conservatives try to sound like libertarians—or maybe, since Americans for Limited Government was founded by Cato Institute (and Reason Foundation) supporter Howard Rich and has Cato President Ed Crane on its board of directors, it's what happens when libertarians try to sound like conservatives. Either way, it's incoherent:

Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson today condemned the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for failure to pass an amendment which would have placed medical marijuana under the same US Food and Drug Administration regulation under which Congress is considering placing tobacco.

"This vote proves out and out that Senate Democrats are not concerned about health at all. Both tobacco and marijuana are weeds, both are smoked, both are carcinogenic, and yet the Senate Committee on Health has seen fit to propose placing tobacco under FDA regulation while shielding marijuana from similar government control," said Wilson.

"Senator Tom Coburn deserves credit for exposing the smoky duplicity of the Senate Committee on Health," Wilson added.

The amendment, sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), would have required that states, should they decide to decriminalize marijuana or allow it for medical purposes, regulate it on the same grounds as tobacco.

Wilson called upon the Senate to enact the Coburn amendment on the floor of the body. "Every member of the Senate must decide if what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

According to Senator Coburn, speaking in committee, "[A]ll this amendment does is say we're going to do the same thing with marijuana that we're going to do with cigarettes—we're going to run it through the FDA and if in fact we're going to utilize it, then we ought to make sure it's safe and efficacious."

In a 13-10 party line vote, the committee's Democrats—and lone Independent—rejected the amendment.

Voicing his disapproval of the vote, Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson said, "The Coburn amendment has effectively revealed the Democrats at their most hypocritical. Congress and Big Government Washington bureaucrats are moving to criminalize tobacco while simultaneously legalizing marijuana."

Wilson added, "The real aim of placing tobacco under FDA control is ultimately prohibition. It's time we call this what it is—a move towards prohibition."…

"Any student of history understands that prohibition triggers more crime and more wasted government resources," Wilson said. "Although it failed in committee, the Coburn amendment succeeded in revealing Democrats' duplicitous nature regarding tobacco regulation and ultimate prohibition."

"America does not need another era of prohibition," Wilson concluded.

From this press release I gather that prohibition is bad for tobacco but not for marijuana, that states should be free to "decriminalize marijuana or allow it for medical purposes" as long as they get permission from the FDA, and that limiting government requires expanding government. Perhaps ALG thinks this is a clever way of getting conservatives to question the war on drugs, but if so it's so clever that I can't tell what the group's position is. There's nothing wrong with joining conservatives like Coburn (ALG's "chairman emeritus") in fighting eminent domain abuse, promoting school choice, limiting spending, or resisting tax increases. But taking drug policy cues from Coburn, who is fiscally conservative but personifies the Republican Party's confused and confusing inconsistency on matters of federalism, economic freedom, and individual liberty, sends exactly the wrong message for a group that claims to be "sick" of "politicians [who] don't honor their own principles or platforms."

I admired Coburn's fiscal conservatism in a 2008 column. In a 2007 Reason article, Dave Weigel asked if Coburn is "an extreme social conservative, a libertarian hero, or both."