Drug Legalization

America's Bipartisan Reefer Madness

Both Democrats and Republicans support the pointless federal crackdown on medical marijuana


Some Oakland, California residents are furious that on the same day that a gunman murdered seven people at Oikos University, armed SWAT teams raided a different university less than a mile away where peaceful activities were being conducted. Federal agents also went to the home of Oaksterdam University's owner Richard Lee, the sponsor of a nearly successful 2010 California initiative that had received the public denunciation of the feds during the initiative campaign.

This is something that should have been seized upon by the Republican presidential candidates. It had all the elements that played into the GOP narrative about President Barack Obama. How many times have we heard that Obama is obliterating states' rights, shredding the Constitution, abusing his authority to punish political enemies, backing away from campaign promises, and misallocating federal resources?

And yet the Oaksterdam raid passed without causing a firestorm from GOP activists and candidates. The reason: Oaksterdam teaches students the cannabis trade—growing marijuana to serve California's medical marijuana industry, an industry that had been flourishing until crackdowns from the Obama administration have driven many dispensaries out of business. Lee's 2010 initiative would have legalized marijuana.

Republicans won't stand up for the right of California to enforce a set of laws that the GOP candidates find offensive, regardless of their discussions of states' rights when it comes to the national health-care law and other issues.

"The raid demonstrated the ongoing tension between the federal government and states/municipalities willing to permit some marijuana use," reported the International Business Times. "Medical marijuana is legal in California, and Oakland offered a glimpse of what broader legalization might look like by passing laws to tax and regulate dispensaries. But the federal Controlled Substances Act holds that cannabis is a dangerous drug with no medical value, ranking it alongside substances like heroin and mescaline."

Despite his campaign vows to make marijuana enforcement a low priority, the president has stepped up raids on these clinics and has been remarkably successful, if one considers tormenting sick people, shutting down tax-paying businesses, confiscating private property, and threatening to jail people a success. In the Sacramento area, where I live, these clinics were common. I would see small pharmacies, where customers would go to purchase their "medicine," and the world went on without incident.

Oakland officials encouraged the development of the cannabis industry, viewing it as a tax-generating enterprise that provided extra money for public services including policing. I've driven by these shops in Oakland and they are far less troublesome than the liquor stores that dot the landscape of that crime-plagued city.

Marijuana foes have argued, despite strong evidence to the contrary, that medical marijuana is a sham—that cannabis has no medical properties and that the state's law is a fancy "work around" the federal drug laws. That's a position born of ignorance. I recall a past debate on the Orange County Board of Supervisors a few years ago. That board approved the issuance of marijuana cards after one supervisor explained how medical marijuana helped a cancer-stricken relative.

We shouldn't have to rely on personal experience to do the right thing. Freedom-loving people should be willing to let other people and their doctors make these decisions. I don't pry into the types of sleeping pills a doctor might prescribe to my neighbors. Yet there's something about marijuana that drives people crazy—a form of reefer madness that afflicts drug warriors rather than pot smokers.

No doubt, it's easy to get a medical-marijuana card in California. Many people with such cards suffer nothing worse than anxiety. One answer, then, would be to toughen up card issuance, not send para-military officials into peaceful businesses. The best answer would be to eliminate the sham altogether by legalizing marijuana use, which would provide a tax windfall and take a bite out of the Mexican Mafia's profits. It's not as if pot smokers can't easily buy marijuana on the black market.

Conservatives from an earlier era—i.e., William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman—championed drug legalization of all types. They understood that the drug war undermined freedom and civil liberties. Unlike today's religious right moralists and statists, they understood that government crackdowns do not make problems go away. Legalization is the best way to control something. As the cliché goes, one doesn't see Budweiser dealers shooting each other in the streets over territorial disputes.

Rick Santorum, who admits smoking marijuana in college, trashed former presidential contender Rick Perry after Perry said that marijuana is a states' rights issue. It's hard to believe that society would have been better served had Santorum spent a decade in jail rather than moving on the U.S. Senate. (Given some of his votes, I might stand corrected!) Mitt Romney rejects liberalized marijuana laws and walked away from a medical marijuana patient who questioned him about it. Obama pretends to be a civil libertarian, but has authorized the crack down.

These people are not serious or consistent. Whenever I bring up this constitutional matter, I'm barraged by Cheech and Chong-like reefer jokes, as if that's a substitute for an argument.

Despite their rhetoric, Republicans believe in the freedom of Americans to live any way they choose as long as that way conforms to the preferences of Republicans. They believe in states' rights as long as the states do things approved by the federal government, which is the same thing that Democrats believe in, except that the Democrats use different lingo to justify their authoritarian impulses.

In other words, don't expect the Oaksterdam outrage—or serious discussions of freedom and states' rights—to become a focal point of the presidential race.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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  1. They believe in states’ rights as long as the states do things approved by the federal government, which is the same thing that Democrats believe in, except that the Democrats use different lingo to justify their authoritarian impulses.

    Quoth the Iron Law:

    You aren’t free unless you are free to be wrong.

    1. yup. and libs constantly ignore that the dems ime are as bad or sometimes worse than the repubs on WOD bullshit.

      clinton, fwiw, was a more ardent drug warrior in many respects, than bush.

      1. Sure, he had something to prove – viz, that he’s reformed from his flirtation from the evil weed, like Prince Hal putting away Falstaff.

        1. yea, that’s a good point. i forgot about his whole smoked but didn’t inhale nonsense

      2. In which respects?

  2. Oh oh, I know this one.

    What is: “Because they are statist assholes”?

    What do I win Alex?

    1. You win a beating by the state.

      1. Awwww 🙁

  3. Why don’t they say anything – because they are all hypocrites? Just saying…

  4. an industry that had been flourishing

    Oh no! People creating jobs and growing the economy? Can’t have that!

  5. Want to know why the drug war won’t end? Simple greed. Too many people making too much money. Police departments get drug war grants while cops get the poisoned fruit of asset forfeitures and flat out stolen drug money and contraband, contractors get money to house the prisoners, courts get money to set up more drug courts, probation and parole gets more money to monitor released offenders, drug treatment facilities get both money and grants.

    Too many little piggies feeding at the trough to take it away.

    1. Exactly. The drug war has become the stand-in for a legalized drug industry. There’s a complete and total drug industry in this country right now, and it’s completely based on drugs being illegal. Changing that would upset the current apple cart and there are too many people making big money off of it.

    2. There’s also the power aspect.

      You are guilty of using drugs until you prove your innocence by submitting to a search and giving a sample of bodily fluids.

      That may not be good enough, and you may need to further prove your innocence by submitting to a search of your home and property.

      Even then you may need to submit to your plumbing being destroyed to prove you didn’t flush something down the toilet.

      And when it’s all done, and you finally prove your innocence, all you get is a big fuck you since you didn’t give them an excuse to steal your property and lock you in a cage.

      1. brilliant.

    3. Not entirely, people really do believe that drugs are bad for you.

      1. This is also true. But the power of material incentives cannot be understated.

      2. Yes, and other people – quite often the same people who rail about govt excess when the other team does it – believe that adults should have the right to make their own choices about things that may or may not be bad for them. A host of activities from skydiving to bungee jumping to getting on the Interstate have the potential to be “bad for you”, but no one is banging the drum to outlaw them.

        The drug war exists because it is a below-the-radar funding source for law enforcement. Kinda like lotteries are back-door revenue mechanisms for states; proceeds originally sold to people as being supplements (usually to education) are often the de facto funding source so money can used on other boondoggles.

        1. Money is important, but I think it is more about control. It’s like the War on Terror?. It’s basically a free check to make draconian laws and policies in the name of the Greater Good?.

          We have to protect the children by giving them a future that is “…a boot stamping on a human face?forever.”

          1. Were you aware that the USA PATRIOT Act did not create new violations of liberty against citizens?
            It merely took powers that already existed in the name of combating suspected drug dealers and extended them to combating suspected terrorists.

            So all that hand wringing about “OMG they’re taking away our rights” was a bunch of disingenuous horse shit since the federal government could already violate those rights if they suspected you were a drug dealer.

            1. Someone knows absolutely nothing about the PATRIOT Act.

              Did the site that told you all this have spinning skull gifs all over it?

      3. People believe that alcohol is bad for you and they don’t fight a war against that. I think his statement was about those in charge that have the power to end the war on drugs. They choose not to.

        1. they did. it was a miserable failure

          of course so is the war on OTHER DRUGS BESIDES ALCOHOL.

          but the statists have way too much time, money, effort, etc. invested in it. and like a reazonoid, no amount of evidence (or at least we haven’t reached that theoretical critical mass of evidence yet) will dissuade them from their cause because it’s a religious cause for them

          it’s a secular holy war, if that’s not oxymoronic. god knows it’s moronic

          i love pj orourke’s drug chapter in parliament of whores where he asks the DC cop if maybe legalization might not result in less harm, etc. and the guy responds with words to the effect of ‘we are talking scum here. air should be illegal if they breathe it’.

          that is a sadly too common mentality

      4. Not entirely, people really do believe that drugs are bad for you.

        The drug war needs its true believers, just like the Crusader kings needed their righteous peasants and knights to “liberate” the holy lands, just like the Wahabbis need their shahids to die in the glorious cause of jihad, just like the Tojos needed kamikazes to die in the name of the god-emperor.

        A movement built more on belief than reason requires useful idiots to support it.

        1. the pro-mj movement has its true believers as well.

          there are plenty who say all sorts of equally unsupported POSITIVE things about mj. they obviously do not get as much press, but both sides of the movement have their true believers.

          some of the more extreme promj advocates remind me of the some of the most ridiculous chiropractic hustlers who believe you can cure practically everything short of a gunshot wound (and maybe even that) with spinal manipulation

          1. the pro-mj movement has its true believers as well.

            These people are the bane of my existence. Did you know that George Washington used to smoke weed out of this wicked six-foot bong and he was totally chill with allowing his slaves to hit the herb and sometimes they’d blaze together all day and it made him so smart that he invented quantum mechanics and mozzarella sticks?

          2. Both help with back pain.

    4. Not to mention the fact that the beer industry has repeatedly lobbied against legalization efforts when they come up for a vote. Why, I cant say. Personally I’ve always thought that the two complement each other nicely.

  6. “Marijuana foes have argued, despite strong evidence to the contrary, that medical marijuana is a sham?that cannabis has no medical properties and that the state’s law is a fancy “work around” the federal drug laws.”

    I invite you all to review the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, pages 21 through 26, in which the Obama Administration adopts this argument in its entirety, and goes on to declare medical marijuana a “threat to children” and “an insult to those seeking to recover from the curse of addiction.” They even accuse medical marijuana providers of “clearly” targeting young people “with medical marijuana advertising.”

    Obama’s 180-degree flip on this issue has been breathtaking.

    Notably, here in New Jersey, up until last year, the legislative Democrats had been villifying Christie for dragging his feet on implementing the state’s medical marijuana program. Now that Hopey McChange has flipped on the issue, the Dems here have become strangely silent.

    (Memo to Gay Rights Activists: Team Obama is courting you now, just as they courted the medical marijuana activists in 2008. I hope you are paying attention to what happened to them).

    1. “Marijuana foes have argued, despite strong evidence to the contrary, that medical marijuana is a sham?that cannabis has no medical properties and that the state’s law is a fancy “work around” the federal drug laws.”

      See, that’s my argument for medical marijuana.

      If we can’t get recreational use legalized, isn’t this the next best thing?

      Has anyone done a comparative study of gang activity in areas with a lot of marijuana clinics like in, say, LA County? I’d really like to see those figures. If there’s a better argument for medical marijuana than keeping recreational drug use money out of the hands of gangbangers, I’d like to hear it.

      1. If we can’t get recreational use legalized, isn’t this the next best thing?

        No, because the medical weed people have shown they’re rent-seeking protectionist bastards.

        1. A lesson for me in how incrementalism can create rent-seeking cocksuckers who pull up the ladder once they are on board the Good Ship Fuck You, Prole.

          1. oh jesus, not this perfect enemy of the good crap

            medical mj is a great median step, and when we finally get full legalization, we will have the medical mj thing to thank as a contributory factor in the final goal of broad legalization.

            sure, there are rent seeking protectionist bastards in the med mj industry.

            just like there are people using medical mj who are using it solely as an excuse to get legal access to a recreational drug

            so fucking what?

            neither group negates the underlying cause.

            heck, there are racist fucksticks in the anti-racial preferences movement. it doesn’t invalidate the legitimacy in the fight against racial preferences.

            what’s important are practices and policy. there will always be leeches whichever way we go

            but one thing we can agree on is that when we have full legalization, these rent seeking assmunches will have to look for other pastures… or poppy fields..

            1. medical mj is a great median step, and when we finally get full legalization, we will have the medical mj thing to thank as a contributory factor in the final goal of broad legalization.


              If the problem we have to get marijuana legalized is that people think legalization will destroy society, then having de facto legalization by way of medical marijuana completely blows those fears out of the water.

              We have to destroy people’s fears, and, that doesn’t even get to the heart of what else I was saying…

              That the best utilitarian reason to legalize marijuana is that it keeps the money out of the hands of gangbangers.

              I’ll take rent-seeking like behavior by entrepreneurs over more money for violent street gangs any day of the week.

            2. No, dude. We will get some sort of legalization after everyone who was born prior to 1945 is dead. Unfortunately, longevity is increasing. 🙁

          2. I’d rather have rent-seeking cocksuckers on the ship than nobody.

            1. well put.

    2. “Obama’s 180-degree flip on this issue has been breathtaking.”

      Yep, and several others. I’d say he’s a lock for the gold in the Olympic event.

      1. Keep in mind, the other finalist will be ROMNIAC. I’d say it will come down to hundredths of a point.

        1. The East German judges will score Obama favorably.

        2. The East German judges will score Obama favorably.

  7. somebody who should be behind bars…


  8. i’ve seen officers fired for some stupid shit, but the deputy who got fired because his neighbor complained he was mowing his lawn in his underwear is the most ridiculous

    it CLEARLY is not indecent exposure whatsoever.

    picture in link

    this officer had zero prior discipline problems as well

    fwiw, i used to go to a nude beach, and have surfed naked (at nude beaches) and i am 100% certain my agency could not care less

    otoh, his former boss changed his mind about applying to have him decertified by the state (which would prohibit him from working for any agency ever again)

    as i have said a million times, i have seen cops routinely disciplined and fired for some ridiculous shit,but this tops the list

    fwiw, i had a friend who was a cop back east and worked as a dancer for women’s bachelorette parties etc. part time.

    apparently, he cleared it with his agency before taking the job and they had no problem with it, as long as he did not wear any sort of police related insignia, uniform, etc. which i think is fair.


  9. It’s still the case that practically nobody votes for a politician for being in favor of med mj, but a small number will vote against a politician for being in favor of med mj. Therefore it makes no sense for a politician to be publicly in favor of med mj.

    1. [citation needed]

  10. Yeah. The same Republicans who didn’t seem to have a problem with Bush shredding the Constitution for 8 years.

  11. Marijuana foes have argued, despite strong evidence to the contrary, that medical marijuana is a sham

    Didn’t you kind of concede that point in the previous paragraph when you put “medicine” in quotation marks? Wink wink, nudge nudge.

    …I would see small pharmacies, where customers would go to purchase their “medicine,” and the world went on without incident.

    Medical marijuana IS a fucking sham, and you don’t have to be a drug warrior to acknowledge that it is. Stand outside on of your local marijuana “pharmacies” and scope out the “patients” for 10 minutes and the jig is pretty well up. It’s so blatantly, obnoxiously dishonest an argument that not only do most thinking people not take it seriously, but it actually pisses them off and makes them less receptive to honest arguments in favor of legalizing pot. Alcohol prohibition wasn’t repealed by pretending that Jim Beam was the next cure for cancer. Next to nobody in the “medical” marijuana movement could give a single flying fuck about sick people. They want to get high without being hassled by cops, the same way that alcoholics did during prohibition. Make an honest argument in favor of getting high and you’d be surprised what kind of response you get. 1/3 of Americans have used pot, and just over half regularly consume alcohol. Americans are very sympathetic to the urge to catch a buzz. They aren’t, however, sympathetic to having their backs pissed down and told that it’s raining.

    1. The real cure is Bacardi 151.

  12. Um, alcohol was sold at pharmacies, with a prescription, for “medicinal purposes” during Prohibition. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but the main reason that marijuana is not recognized as medically beneficial is the Fed controls the test supply and will not release any mj for study unless the outcome is predicted to be something negative.

    WTF? Nobody is saying marijuana cures anything! It alleviates symptoms; nothing more or nothing less. Hell, we’ve got whole pharmacies full of over-the-counter shit that is sold to make us feel better. What is wrong with mmj?

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