Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

What the Pot Legalization Victories Mean for the Pro-Freedom Agenda

Voters in Colorado and Washington rejected the reefer madness of the Republicans and Democrats.


When it comes to real political change, the people almost always are light years ahead of the politicians, most of whom are so worried about re-election that they take only carefully crafted positions that appeal to their core constituencies.

If anything, the general election reaffirmed the big-government status quo, but there was one good sign from the national results, as voters in Washington and Colorado passed, with strong majorities, measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Voters ignored the hysteria of Republican and Democratic politicians and did the right thing.

This is a serious issue that involves law-enforcement priorities, basic freedoms, criminal justice reform, and basic economic issues involving black markets and taxation, not that you'd know it from the silly pot jokes one hears whenever discussing this matter. (As an example, Colorado's Democratic governor, an opponent of the state's measure, warned supporters,"Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.")

Some conservatives have chalked up the pot-decriminalization victories in two Western states as the indication of the leftward nature of the election results, but that would be a misreading that will harm conservatives' viability.

"What transpired in Colorado and Washington were disciplined efforts that forged alliances between liberals and tea party conservatives, often using public health arguments to advance their cause," according to a recent New York Times analysis. "Tuesday's vote on the measure in Colorado amounted to a popular revolt against the establishment."

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the grassroots left and right would be united in favor of a "leave us alone" policy any more than it should surprise us that the supposedly liberal Obama administration has been even more zealous in prosecuting medical-marijuana dispensaries in California and Colorado than the supposedly conservative Bush administration. Political authorities like to flex their muscle, and it's up to the people to band together to preserve their freedoms.

Attitudes toward marijuana are changing dramatically, and if the GOP is serious about rebranding itself in the wake of its losses, this is a good place to start. No one is suggesting that conservatives suddenly act hip by embracing pot smoking. But Republicans should try to live up to their own stated principles of limited government and states' rights by advocating a credible policy on this and other social issues.

During the election, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made sensible points about medical marijuana. "My personal position on these issues has been let the states decide what they want to do with these things," he said in a TV interview. That was before the Romney campaign caused him to do some back-tracking.

From a basic consistency standpoint, it's bizarre that Republicans would advocate returning abortion to the states, which would be the effect of overturning Roe v. Wade, yet insist that the federal government wantonly overturn the will of the people in those states that allow either medical marijuana or the recreational use of a substance that is demonstrably less harmful than the alcoholic beverages one can buy in any grocery store.

It's not about weed, but about consistency. States' rights means states' rights, not states' rights when we agree with the policies independent states embrace. The GOP's rigidity only reinforces the cartoonish Democratic narrative that the party is beholden to religious moralists of the type who want to re-impose slavery and Prohibition. It also lets the Democrats get away with their stupidity on the drug war.

I was chatting recently with a couple in their mid-80s—staunch conservatives who told me how much they believe in ending the drug war and especially the war on marijuana users. These types of attitudes are becoming more common, yet the national parties are advancing attitudes from the "reefer madness" era.

There are so many public policy matters involved in this issue. Supporters argued that legalizing marijuana would allow law enforcement to focus resources on genuine crime issues rather than on this minor issue. It would provide tax revenue to revenue-hungry governments, although that's an argument that leaves me cold given my desire to cut back government spending.

In its letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, a group of prominent law-enforcement officials argued:  "August Vollmer, father of professional policing and primary author of the Wickersham Commission report that served to bring an end to the prohibition of alcohol, opposed the enforcement of drug laws, saying that they 'engender disrespect both for law and for the agents of law enforcement.' … After 40 years of the drug war, people no longer look upon law enforcement as heroes but as people to be feared. This is particularly true in poor neighborhoods and in those of people of color, and it impacts our ability to fight real crime."

Some conservatives, including former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, endorsed legalization. Serious liberals have bucked the Democratic Party's equally insane prosecution of the drug war, thus planting the seeds of a left-right pro-freedom coalition outside the confines of the two outdated national parties.

Critics of legalizing small amounts of marijuana are using scare tactics to encourage a heavy-handed federal response. We don't know what the feds will do, given that they have been silent about the measures. Expect the worst. But Seattle police, for instance, have been coming up with reasonable guidelines for enforcement. Is it too much to ask authorities treat us like self-governing adults rather than subjects?

The market will work things out. In California, one can visit quiet pharmacies that are less ominous-looking than liquor stores and choose their medicine without harassment, provided they show a card. Some similarly regulated system will emerge for the sale of recreational marijuana.

The best news isn't that pot will be legal in two states, but that the legalization victories could point the way to a broader, pro-freedom movement.

NEXT: Violence in Wake of Egyptian President's Power-Grab

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  1. When it comes to real political change, the people almost always are light years ahead of the politicians, most of whom are so worried about re-election that they take only carefully crafted positions that appeal to their core constituencies.

    Except when the hoi polloi vote to ban gay mirage, then the cosmotarians run to the unelected blackrobes for succor.

    1. That has nothing to do with anything.

      1. BLAHBLAHBLAH i can’t hear you BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH.

  2. The right side of the blogosphere is full of articles this week on on United Nations ‘crats are saying a state cannot legalize drugs on its own, as the US is party to drug control treaties. Kind of like their fears about UN imposed land use and gun controls. Maybe I will have to read this new Beck book on Agenda 21 after all.

  3. Bruce Majors, since when did the right side of the blogosphere pay ANY attention to what the United Nations says? Most of the right winger folks I know want us to get the hell out of the United Nations. They have as much power with the marijuana issue as they do with “Agenda 21”. NONE!

    1. “They have as much power with the marijuana issue as they do with “Agenda 21″. NONE!”
      So it wouldn’t matter if we left it? It wouldn’t be a “radical move backward?” Or do you want it to have MORE power?

    2. One of the points on which I agree with the Deranged Right is that we should get the hell out of the United Nations. Or perhaps actually shell it with artillery. It combines the worst aspects of feckless bureaucracy and self-satisfied intellectualism, and frankly has the moral stature of duckweed. Not that I agree with the Right’s REASONS for getting out of the U.N.

  4. Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it – George Bernard Shaw.

    The point being that those who seek the liberty to use drugs seldom seek the responsibility for the unintended consequences of that liberty. In other words: I support your liberty to use drugs; I do not support your rescue from any unintended consequences.

    That’s true LIBERTY-arianism.

    1. And in the absence of layers upon layers of government interference in private lives and private markets that shift responsibility from the individual to the collective, those unintended consequences would be borne entirely by the individual involved (and the other individuals directly impacted by his choices, like spouses and children). That is, indeed, true libertarianism, and I don’t think you’ll find a soul here in disagreement with the principle.

  5. I would agree that some who seek the liberty to use drugs don’t act responsibly, but I think that most do. What a person chooses to do to relax in the privacy of his or her home is that person’s choice as long as it hurts no one else. There is a pretty constant percentage of the population that becomes addicted to _______ (fill in the blank–alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, power), and that percentage of people will have a portion that act irresponsibly. I do emphatically agree that an individual has this right.

  6. “Drugs” are a huge part of our society. Be it alcohol, prescription pain medications, tobacco, ADHD meds, marijuana, etc. I do not believe that the majority of people using these drugs do so irresponsibly.

    1. The majority do not abuse the broad definition of drugs… and all is well. For the minority who do abuse substances, it is an unjust society that forces others to share in the burdens of the unintended consequences.

      – over 17 million abusers of alcohol:

      – cocaine and heroin users number around 2 million and one can expect a high proportion of those to be dysfunctional to some degree:

      – there are about 200,000 new cases of lung cancer each year with a majority of those being tobacco users:

      It’s difficult to “just say no” to abusers when there is no call for responsibility among those who call for liberty… and that penalizes all.

      1. Please elaborate as to how others share in the burdens of the unintended consequences. I’m not sure I’m following you. Unless you’re alluding to the fact that we all pay for the incarceration of people who use illegal drugs, and that the vast majority of these incarcerations are for possession alone. I mean, it’s a no brainer that when someone drives drunk, we all pay. But there are criminal laws against that. It’s obvious that if heroin addicts resort to theft, others pay, but there are laws against that too. I suppose one could argue that we all pay for higher medical costs thanks to people who use cigarettes, but that becomes a slippery slope too. I mean, people who eat too much, are eat too much cholesterol causing food also drive up medical costs. Are we ready to curtail their actions in order to avoid the unintended consequences?

        1. Health care is a big issue with alcoholism and tobacco use… and harder drugs tend to incapacitate users over time thus affecting those who must work or live with them.

          Regardless, we should be more concerned with the liberty of those who would use or abuse as opposed to the freedom from consequences of those who would be affected by the abusers, right? You know, those sniveling whiners who cry about having to live with alcoholics or smokers dying of cancer or the airheads who have the liberty to ruin their lives and those who care about them.

          Oh, wait. We’re not talking about liberty after all. We’re talking about license and its followers.

          1. I guess I’m one of those airheads. I have held a high level scientific research job for 25 years. I have smoked pot for 40 years. When I was in school getting my degree in chemistry and microbiology, I smoked pot and got straight A’s. I am, and have been, exceedingly healthy. I would say that YES, the liberty of each and every individual to do what he or she wants with his or her body as long as he or she hurts no one else BY FAR trumps any perceived consequences that others may or may not pay for. What you propose, Bruce, is not a free society, but a nanny society.

          2. Here again, the only thing tying those issues to the broader populace is a set of coercive mandates by government. And drugs are hardly the only thing with which people ruin their lives and the lives of their loved ones – as was already pointed out. Unless you are willing to delve into totalitarian levels of government interference in every aspect of personal choice, you have no argument in favor of prohibiting drugs, alcohol and tobacco, but not, say, guns, motorcycles, skydiving, stock market speculation, video games, pornography, candy, soda, etc etc ad infinitum. Oh, wait. We’re not talking about liberty at all. We’re talking about selective moral outrage and its followers.

            Fuck off slaver.

        2. addictive drugs compel ppl to raise $ to buy more.

          unless they are super wealthy, their habit outpaces their legal earning power.

          unintended consequences = crime against others for $

          thats an obvious one. but there are others that are more glancing blows, not direct hits.

          when a person selfdestructs, those who love them will indefinitely be harmed.

          1. Drugs are inanimate and cannot compel anything. The people who fight the War on Drugs can and do create the higher prices that exacerbate theft.

      2. For the minority who do abuse substances, it is an unjust society that forces others to share in the burdens of the unintended consequences.

        It’s difficult to “just say no” to abusers when there is no call for responsibility among those who call for liberty… and that penalizes all.

        Would someone *kindly* rephrase these sentences? I *think* Bruce may have a point in there, but I just can’t dig it out.

        1. I’m glad I’m not the only one having a hard time trying to figure out the cryptic messages Bruce is sending.

        2. Allow me to assist:

          “I personally find certain types of drugs objectionable, and the abusers of those drugs offend my moral sensibilities, so better a total assault on the personal liberty of everyone else than even one of them go free”

          While it’s not particularly consistent, it’s hard to refute the logic of folks like Bruce when you realize that under prohibition, no addict ever obtains a fix of his drug of choice or negatively affects anyone else around him. Plus, it’s so much easier for addicts to get clean and transition back into society when they have an extensive criminal record for possession and use of drugs. It prevents families from being destroyed by drug abuse by removing the drug abuser from the picture at taxpayer expense and then supporting the rest of the family on taxpayers’ charity. In summary, drug addicts are bad people, and we must therefore prevent them from making free choices because they might tangentially affect other people. Similar consideration should also be given to other personal behaviors I find distasteful or immoral. Don’t like it? Well, fuck you, it’s for your own good.

          1. Well siad, PM!

      3. For fucks sake, the “unintended consequences” are always covered by some other law. What makes you think a dipshit that takes heroin and goes on a joy ride isn’t going to drink liquor and go on a joy ride, or any other numerous example of such? Manslaughter charges still exist. I would rather take the risk of a few individuals costing me money than have the government come and take my money.

  7. All this pot legalization is bullshit. It’s just a way to say I’m cool, I’m the counter-culture not like those stuffy republicans. But when Philip Morris and other corporations start growing the stuff on a mass scale, and probably more efficiently, leftists will turn against pot. I’m sure there are serious complications of long term pot use, just like there is with tobacco. The lawyers are licking their lips over the lawsuits 30 years from now.

    1. I’m sure there are serious complications of long term pot use

      I’m sure you’re full of shit.

      1. Well two things. First, isn’t it strange the the left, who wants to ban 24 inch sodas and a million other things, is OK with pot?

        Second, long term pot use has been linked to greater risk for heart disease and stroke. I’m 101% certain that there are always problems with overdoing anything — even drinking too much water can damage your kidneys.

        1. Second, long term pot use has been linked to greater risk for heart disease and stroke.

          I’d be curious to know how many cases they’ve studied where those pot smokers with heart disease and stroke were the ones that went for greasy shit to eat while they were high.

        2. I’m sorry, 16th Amendment, but it simply is not true that long term pot use has been linked to greater risk for heart disease and stroke. The Merck Medical Index of Diagnosis and Treatment notes that pot smoking may exacerbate some lung conditions, but otherwise no long term adverse affects have been noted, even in heavy users.

          1. OK, I thought I read something about this in cancer. So I googled and found an article with title “Marijuana may up heart attack, stroke risk”.


            They keyword is “may”, so I stand corrected. Maybe it is harmful.

            But I’m pretty certain there is some problem, just we haven’t found it out yet. For the longest time people thought tobacco was harmless. At one time they thought radioactive materials caused no harm, and that’s how Madame Curie died.

            I’ve never smoked the stuff, but notice that some people smoke in a group once a week. By sharing one joint, and only once a week, there might be no harm. But if the price of pot drops, you can be sure people will use it more. And once it is legalized, then better studies can be done.

            1. Have you got anything that isn’t anecdotal?

              1. why would you expect price to drop?

                statists want that drug money. they will recover any gaps between free market pricing and black market pricing via taxation.

                1. Its been pushed so far underground, it will remain in an untaxed grey market. Prices will drop and gov’t won’t get all the money they think they will get from legalization.

            2. 16th Amendment, people have been smoking a pile of pot in the US for 45 or more years. If there is “something” we don’t know about, I strongly feel that epideimiological studies would shake it out. I don’t think pot is harmless. I just think it’s one of the less toxic choices for a recreational drug than the others out there. You are EXACTLY right about more studies being done with legalization. Components of marijuana do have medicinal properties. Unfortunately, this area is in its infancy due to legal restrictions. The same can be said for health and societal information regarding long term use.

        3. Um where are you getting that the left is ok with pot?

          1. I think rank-in-file leftists are ok with legalization but this will change as soon as their superiors convince them to believe otherwise. Their minds are much more malleable than their counterparts on the right and their dependence on gubmint will always trump individual liberty.

            1. rank-and-file.
              Fuck me.

        4. Inhaling combustion byproducts is likely part of the problem. Fortunately, there is a way to avoid that. Unfortunately, that is also illegal.

        5. I’m 100% sure you’re bad at math.

  8. I’m curious as to what our resident trolls think about legalizing pot. Have TONY, Palin’s Buttplug or the Derider voiced their support or are they patiently awaiting orders from DC like good apparatchiks?

    1. That’s easy. Legalization is a compassionate and admirable policy if championed by a person or party in general agreement with them, and a cynical, hateful ploy to repress minorities if championed by a person or party with whom they disagree. You will find this to be the case with most all public policy.

  9. I’ve been talking about this subject for many years. If the Republican Party would be true to their principals marijuana would be legal. Sadly crony capitalist and big government have continued the lie that was established in 1937. Its out there you can read about it. The alcohol, tobacco, law and prison system, and big pharma do not want it legal. It has always been about money for 75 years.

    1. who are you to decide what constitutes republican ideals?

      isnt bushs brand of republicanism more valid? he WAS the leader of the free world at one time.

      i find it more reasonable to call republicanism a mixture of actual congressional votes of republicans or actions of republican executives. their campaign speeches are just talk.

      1. It is so true that the Republicans have greatly changed over the years. They no longer stand for freedom and liberty.

    2. I know the Republican ideals I grew up with in my very Libertarian leaning family were that what a person did to his or her own body in the comfort of the family home was nobody’s business as long as it hurt no one else. So, I agree with thinksubstance on this issue as well as the others brought up.

  10. Whoa wait wut? Pot is illegal? Since when?

  11. Qing Dynasty China went from being the most prosperous nation and successful society ever known to a broken and impoverished ruin in less than a century due to street drugs pushed into their society by the Medellin Cartel of their times, The British Empire. The social history of 19th Century China is undeniable proof that human beings cannot be depended on to always act in their own best long-term interests when tempted by the lures of immediate gratification. The Qing dynasts were pronouncedly laissez faire, especially compared to the predecessor Ming. Like reasonable people might expect, they initially thought that opium abuse would be a self-contained issue. After all, what rational person would take up the drug habit after stepping over the emaciated corpse of an addict? But that reasonable assumption about human rationality and self-interest was proven false. Isn’t this the lesson of The Fall in the Garden of Eden? We may listen to Maslow, Spock, and their intellectual heirs and be persuaded that recreational drugs are indeed harmless; but Greater China has not forgotten the bitter lessons from the 19th Century. Possession is a crime and severely punished, a bullet to the back of the head in Red China, hanging until dead in Singapore. Produces better results for society overall than sympathy, counseling, and rehab for the abuser. Well, I suppose that you are looking forwards to live in the world of Clockwork Orange.

    1. The world of Clockwork Orange was one where a Brave New World type of authoritarian government eliminated free will ostensibly for the good of the delinquent and for the greater society, subjugating the individual to the collective. Sounds more like the world you want to live in to me.

    2. The social history of 19th Century China is undeniable proof that human beings cannot be depended on to always act in their own best long-term interests…

      Hence the need for central control and leadership by Top Men.

    3. Some of us haven’t forgotten the bitter lessons of alcohol Prohibition, either: gangland violence, frequently unsafe black market product, police corruption and contempt for law enforcement.

      Not surprisingly, because they are the same effect as those of modern-day drug Prohibition.

    4. Uhh this comment is big fat FAIL. Portugal has legalized all drugs in their country and instead of imprisoning drug users gives them treatment. The drug idiot warriors like yourself predicted that the country would explode with violence. Didn’t happen. Crime and drug use dropped. So there goes your “We’re the government and we know whats best for you” argument down in flames..

      1. Not to mention that medicine and treatment for drug abuse has advanced greatly since the 1800’s. Perhaps if the Qing Dynasty was in effect today there would be far less people lost to opium?

  12. I’m not big a fan of drug legalization. I realize it worked in Portugal, but the USA is a whole different animal.

    More than anything else, I’m not convinced that the drug cartel, located literally right below us, will just give up and disappear. Do you trust the US government to stop them from latching onto to legal businesses? Or undercut them with cheaper, unregulated product? There will be buyers who are still forbidden by law to purchase drugs.

    Like “16th amendment” says, if and when the big tobacco or other companies start getting in on the fun, “that” wing of the left will change its tune. There’s only one group that wants drugs legalized for principled reasons, and they can’t win elections yet.

    1. There’s only one group that wants drugs legalized for principled reasons, and they can’t win elections yet.

      What’s the practical difference though? Aside from the fact that lefties will immediately take any shred of fun out of doing drugs the same way they have for everything else we eat, breath, or put in our bodies. It’s better if you can get people to do the right thing for the right reasons, but at least when they do the right thing for the wrong reasons the result is the same.

      As far as the cartels go, if they want to get a business license and open up shop, let ’em. It’ll never happen, of course, because there entire business model depends on the prices they can extract due to drugs being illegal. Nobody wants prohibition more than the drug cartels, no different than mafia bootleggers during alcohol prohibition. What happened to liquor prices during and after prohibition? What about the mob? Prices went down, the mob lost a lot of its power and money, and life went on. What reason do you have to think that the same thing wouldn’t happen vis-a-vis the drug cartels and drug prohibition? Or for that matter, why Portugal’s experiment is anomalous?

      1. Exactly, PM!!! I’m surprised to see so many nannies on the Libertarian site. Must be Republicans in disguise.

      2. Couldn’t they can operate without having to to deal with regulations or taxes (and constant surveillance for the feds) and sell cheaper products on the street?

        Ending prohibition restored a product that was legal since the days of yore. The legal market, manufacturing, brands, and the whole enchilada already existed. Drug legalization on the US market is a brand new game.

        I’m sure the cartel isn’t a big fan of legalization, because it takes away their monopoly. But if the novelty wears off and people get bored by the stuff they sell in legal shops, then who knows?

    2. This response just misses the point. The drug cartels indeed might not give up and disappear. But the competition from drug legalization will significantly reduce their profits. And the less money someone has, the less corruption they can cause.

      Legalization will not solve all problems but, just like the ending of alcohol prohibition, many will be significantly reduced….

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