Marijuana

The Conservative Schism on Legalizing Pot

Law and order conservatives vs. small government conservatives.

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Virginia has grown less ideologically conservative in recent years, if election results are anything to go by. But it still exhibits the temperamental conservatism summarized by the traditionalist's credo: When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. That might partly account for the state's hidebound policies on pot.

More residents these days think the state's approach to marijuana needs changing, however. Eighty percent of Virginians in a recent survey favor civil fines rather than criminal conviction for minor possession offenses, and more than three out of five Virginians support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

More ideological conservatives are modulating their views on pot as well. The commonwealth's crime commission will study decriminalization of pot this year, thanks to a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a Republican who recently provoked liberal wrath with his proposal on felon voting rights, which progressives viewed as a step backward. Such a Nixon-goes-to-China move might have provided the catalyst without which Virginia would have remained stuck in Prohibition mode for the foreseeable future.

Or not. Both Democratic candidates for governor, Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello, favor decriminalizing marijuana. Northam, a pediatric neurologist who knows better than most the damage that drugs can do to the adolescent brain, was the first to announce his position publicly.

But while a majority of younger Republicans favor legalization, the GOP candidates aren't there yet. Front-runner Ed Gillespie opposes decriminalization and supports merely "exploring reforms to make sure that penalties align appropriately to the offense committed." N.b.: Exploring. Wouldn't want to actually endorse such a crazy idea, now would we.

Corey Stewart and Frank Wagner have nothing to say on the subject. And the one exception on the right has dropped out of the race: Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer and current boutique distiller. He told The Virginian-Pilot the Republican Party should get with the times: "There's gotta be some common sense about marijuana at some point."

Riggleman also said the GOP needs to conform its position on marijuana to its broader philosophical preference for limited government. The comment speaks to a Republican fissure on the issue between law-and-order conservatives and small-government conservatives.

The small-government types have the better argument. Pot is certainly far from harmless. Yet every argument for the prohibition of marijuana applies equally well to the prohibition of alcohol. Indeed, if you consider the social harm inflicted by the two drugs, current policy has it precisely backward: Alcohol should be illegal and pot should be legal.

The number of deaths caused by marijuana is, if not zero, then too small to be measured. The Drug Enforcement Administration concedes that "no death from overdose of marijuana" has ever been reported, and even the prohibitionist Family Council could find fewer than 300 deaths to which marijuana allegedly "contributed"—over an eight-year period. More people than that die being struck by lightning.

Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control, "excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death. This dangerous behavior accounted for approximately 88,000 deaths per year from 2006–2010, and accounted for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20–64 years."

Yet we hear no conservative demands for the return of alcohol Prohibition. Nor have conservatives stormed the barricades to demand tighter gun control, despite the fact that several hundred children a year die from gunshots, along with about 30,000 other people.

It is simply not tenable for conservatives to argue that marijuana, which directly kills nobody, should be verboten but booze and guns should not.

Philosophically, the war on marijuana belongs to those who favor the Nanny State. In that regard, the liberal push for legalization also looks incongruous, given widespread progressive support for tobacco restrictions, the individual insurance mandate, soda taxes, and similar infringements on personal autonomy.

Liberals should be asking themselves whether their moral principles concerning marijuana shouldn't also apply in other instances. Conservatives should be asking themselves whether their principles concerning alcohol and guns shouldn't also apply to marijuana. Consistency suggests that, for both sides, it's necessary to change.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. Tell me about your drugs.

  2. Conservatives or Republicans?

    1. 48% of Michigan Republican men and 36% of women favored a 2016 cannabis legalization proposal (that was later rejected for the ballot). Since more Democrats vote when there is a legalization proposal on the ballot, and had the proposal made the ballot, Hillary Clinton could have won Michigan. I suggest the Republican leadership’s fear of legal cannabis has more to do with the stronger Democratic turnout, than any philosophical opposition to legalization. Which is why Republicans should lead the issue in state legislatures first. Without the strong support for legalization among Republicans, legalization might not achieve the majority support it now enjoys. My advice to legalizers: don’t demonize Republicans.

  3. More people than that die being struck by lightning.

    This gets mentioned so much that I think we should all agree to start calling it argumentum ad fulmen.

    1. As a natural phenomenon, lightning is protected from statistical abuse by the EPA.

  4. Virginia has been overrun by bureaucrats from all over the rest of the country coming to work in DC.

    1. You mean as voters in Va.? Or are there not enough jobs for them in DC so they make themselves jobs as bureaucrats in Va.? I’d imagine the former, but if you know of the latter I’d be interested to know.

  5. Indeed, if you consider the social harm inflicted by the two drugs, current policy has it precisely backward: Alcohol should be illegal and pot should be legal.

    Is it at all possible that this is because you can go to a liquor store and buy gallons of liquor legally while it’s still largely illegal to go to a pot store and buy pounds of pot?

    1. The difference in numbers of people who use alcohol vs. pot probably have a lot to do with the one’s legality and the other’s illegality.
      But I think that even if both had the same legal status, alcohol would still be associated with more social problems. You may think that pot smokers are dumb (which really isn’t true generally speaking, but whatever), but drunks are dumb, unself-aware and tend to be a lot more violent and disruptive than potheads. And it does come down to the effects of the drugs, not just the social context. Alcohol makes people less self-conscious and inhibited, and for most people pot does the opposite.

      1. You may be right, I don’t know. I don’t know if I know any people who smoke pot but I do know many that drink alcohol. I know happy drunks, sad drunks, mean drunks, sleepy drunks, affectionate drunks, and so on. Can every person who uses pot be put into the super-chill pothead category? Is that the only possible effect of smoking pot?

        1. Well, certainly one of the key differences is that is very nearly trivial to consume a fatal amount of alcohol whereas it is essentially impossible to consume a fatal amount of pot.

          1. That’s certainly a positive for pot. My question only deals with the so called effects on society. In other words, are pot smokers more dangerous to those around them than non-pot smokers and how does that compare to alcohol drinkers. And if everything were equal with pot and alcohol, would pot related deaths still be 1/100th of alcohol related deaths? If you could control for people dying from OD, I suspect the alcohol deaths would be much lower because of the reason you state.

            1. Much lower than currently reported, that is. Not much lower than pot.

            2. Who cares what the effect is on society is? Mind your own business.

            3. While I haven’t been around many pot smokers for many years, 40 years ago I was around them all the time (and yes, I inhaled more than a few times myself). I don’t think I ever saw someone stoned on pot get angry or violent in any way.

              I did see a few that that put PCP in their pot get nasty, but I only ran across people doing that once. I suppose there are other drugs they could mix with pot that would act differently, but it was never pot by itself. Of course I’ve run across a lot of people that were angry and violent with alcohol.

            4. Cannabis smokers, as a whole, are far less reactive, risky and aggressive, and far more cautious, aware and passive than alcohol drinkers. Given a tiny minority of people with mental issues who also consume cannabis and/or alcohol, there are bound to be anecdotal incidents under their influence. However, people with mental issues are less likely to be adversely affected by cannabis than alcohol. Who would you trust more with a gun, a cannabis smoker or a drunk? As for fatalities, alcohol causes 100,000 US deaths/year. Cannabis causes 0 US deaths/year, although some claim its more than 0, if auto fatalities with cannabis mentions is included. Multiple studies show cannabis influenced drivers are far safer than alcohol influenced drivers, and cannabis drivers were statistically nearly as safe as non-users.

            5. Since the weed was legalised in my state a while back, I have been amazed to learn how many “normal” folk I’ve known for a long time not only use pot now, but HAVE BEEN USING IT regularly for years, despite its being illegal. These are family folk, hard working, creative, sociable, sensible, folk. They break the mould the general public have bought for the typical pot user. Now its legal, ther eis no reason to hide it any more. I don’t use the stuff, but have no issue being around those who do. Sometimes they seem to “drop out” more in a social setting, turning inward and isolating. But nowhere near as obnoxious, dangerous, stupid as drunks. And I’ve also been around far too many of those.

              No, we’ve been sold a bill of goods on the whole pot business. Whaddyaspeck, seeing as to how it was first made illegel to elimiinate the competition for du Pont’s newly patented nylon rope fibre…… they wanted to eliminate any possibility of competition from hemp fibre….

            6. If a person buys a bag of weed (or cocaine or heroin or whatever) and consumes the drugs in the privacy of his own home, the effect on society is nothing.

        2. Can every person who uses pot be put into the super-chill pothead category?

          No, certainly not. Most probably fall into the “normal person I wouldn’t think twice about” category, though.

          I have quite a lot of experience with people who smoke pot and while it does affect different people quite differently at times, I’ve never encountered anyone who gets more aggressive. With alcohol it’s a whole different story.

          Of course, alcohol affects people differently too. But one of the main reasons people like it is the social disinhibition that almost everyone gets from it and that is the same thing that makes it easier for people to get into fights or do stupid shit when they are drunk.
          If someone gets way too drunk, they might blackout and do absolutely ridiculous shit, get violently ill or even die. When someone smokes too much pot, they pretty much just have to lie down for a few hours, or at worst will have a panic attack (and those people tend not to repeat the experience).

          I think alcohol’s a fine thing. And I don’t think that the relative harms have anything to do with what should be legal for people to consume. But objectively speaking, it makes no sense to have alcohol in an entirely different legal category from a relatively benign drug like pot.

          1. If alcohol, which causes much more harm to people when it’s consumed to excess, can be legalized, or decriminalized, than why shouldn’t marijuana?

        3. Seen the Spike Jonze vid of “Drunk Girls” on Vimeo? The song is about the subject, but the video really isn’t. I consider the video an excellent accomplishment considering it has no visual edits until about the final min.

      2. There is no doubt that alcohol is much more closely linked to violent behavior than pot regardless of the propaganda. Of course even the alcohol induced violent behavior applies to only a small percentage of drinkers. I did the hard-core party seem for years and knew several people who if you gave them hard liquor, you were asking for trouble. First they want to go out and drive, then they want to start fights. Rise exact same people on pot want to stay home and watch TV.

        1. I’ve never ever seen the opposite situation.

          1. I kinda like Rise. But I use Barbasol or the store brand.

    2. “Is it at all possible that this is because you can go to a liquor store and buy gallons of liquor legally while it’s still largely illegal to go to a pot store and buy pounds of pot?”

      No.

    3. Results are already in from CO & WA. AFAIK, statistics indicate that making the spigot accessible hasn’t had resulted in a flood of increased consumption, either individually or collectively.

  6. “Can’t we all just get a bong?”

    1. [enthusiastic golf clap]

  7. It is simply not tenable for conservatives to argue that marijuana, which directly kills nobody, should be verboten but booze and guns should not.

    Unless premarital sex is the real reason behind prohibiting marijuana. Certain conservatives are only concerned with sex. They oppose abortion not primarily because it kills children but because it allows people to have sex without the threat of an unwanted pregnancy. If this weren’t true then conservatives would be demanding that teenagers be given condoms or any other form of contraception that doesn’t destroy fertilized eggs and prevents unwanted pregnancies thereby reducing the number of fetal “murders”.

    But they don’t. In fact they oppose anything that might make sex less dangerous even to the point of opposing vaccinating teenage girls for HPV. Not everyone who’s “pro-life” actually cares about life. Some of them, in the words of H L Mencken, have “the haunting fear that somewhere, someone is happy”.

    1. Don’t underestimate the number of people who think that preventing a pregnancy equals ending a pregnancy. Every sperm is sacred and whatnot.

    2. While I agree many of the more religious conservatives are motivated by puritanical instincts, I don’t think this is the reason most conservatives are so gung-ho about being pro-life. They are pro-life because it gives them a feeling of moral superiority like no other issue. In their minds, they are protecting innocent babies. Deep down, they know that many other pet issues, such as gay marriage, are moral losers, so being pro-life gives them that same feeling that liberals get standing up for oppressed groups.

  8. Face it. There is only one reason pot isn’t legal already. Because it would mean the dismantling of the infrastructure that has been built to “wage war” on it.

    Doing so would be admitting the government has been wrong/lying to us for 60+ years. It would mean a loss of government power to tell people how to live their lives. It would mean the loss of funding/manpower to the enforcement organizations. It would mean letting a huge percentage of non-violent offenders out of prison and therefore reducing the tax dollars going to those prisons. It would mean an international black eye for becoming involved in all the treaties to stem the flow of weed.

    And most importantly, some very important and powerful people will no longer be important and powerful.

    It ain’t about safety. It’s about keeping big government big.

    1. I think you hit — quite squarely, I might add — the proverbial nail on the head! BINGO!

    2. That and killing some people to, you know, serve as an example and instill the Fear of God in survivors.

  9. RE: The Conservative Schism on Legalizing Pot
    Law and order conservatives vs. small government conservatives.

    It never ceases to amaze me about the social conservatives. They are as bad as the socialists in trying to micromanage our lives. There are a lot of conservatives who believe in the legalization of MJ, such a Patrick Buchanan and the late William F. Buckley. It really comes down to do you want The State to tell what to do, when to do it and how to do it like you’re a robot or not. Sadly, a lot of conservatives are like that.

    By the way, I will be exercising my white privilege on the 15th of April.

  10. Amateur social engineers kill more people than alcohol and pot combined.

    1. ^^ Yep

    2. And the professional ones are worse yet.

  11. Riggleman also said the GOP needs to conform its position on marijuana to its broader philosophical preference for limited government.

    Good thing this lunatic dropped out.

  12. This article highlights the incoherence of both parties on this issue. Democrats started the prohibition of drugs, and generally believe in controlling private behavior. While almost all elected Democrat leaders have resisted marijuana law reform, the rank and file favor it. For Republicans, the usual promotion of individual liberty is ignored on this issue, especially, and curiosly, among elected leaders. You don’t think drug gang money has anything to do with it, do you?

  13. What’ll interest me is seeing some turnaround of momentum in the USA (maybe some other countries too) on tobacco & vape. Right now we’re seeing a dichotomy of momentum anti restrictions & enforcement relating to cannabis, but pro them re narcotics & some other drugs. Seems the bellwether now is tobacco, or maybe vaping, on which the trend is anti, but might be easier to turn around than on narcotics & pills.

    1. Reversing the anti-vaping trend in government would be a winner for Trump.

  14. Pot is certainly far from harmless.

    No, it’s as close to harmless as anything can get. To a close approximation, it’s completely harmless.

    1. Actually, pot has proved to be more harmful than many people realize. Too much of it can and will damage long and short-term memory, and, for adolescents, who are not yet fully physically or mentally mature, it, like alcohol, can do much more harm.

      1. “Too much of it can….”

        Like anything else. Literally. Too much of anything has negative consequences. Too many bananas means too much potassium, which can worsen a heart arrhythmia.

  15. Philosophically, the war on marijuana belongs to those who favor the Nanny State. In that regard, the liberal push for legalization also looks incongruous, given widespread progressive support for tobacco restrictions, the individual insurance mandate, soda taxes, and similar infringements on personal autonomy.

    It’s culture war. For historic reasons, those who favor the nanny state also have at least nostalgia for, if not a continued liking of, mj. It’s all about upsetting the culture; if tobacco had been prohibited 50+ yrs. ago, & cannabis legal, then “liberals” today would be for liberating tobacco & clamping down on pot.

  16. “Liberals should be asking themselves whether their moral principles concerning marijuana shouldn’t also apply in other instances.”
    … tobacco/alcohol? Legalize recreational consumption for adults (variously defined at 18 or 21), prohibit usage by minors, tax and regulate.
    Sugar? Even the stingiest of the “soda tax” proposals is just a tax, not any sort of prohibition.
    Heck, even the insurance mandate? If you don’t buy insurance, then your taxes go up?
    And all the legal marijuana ideas? Age-gate it and then tax/regulate.

    I’m not sure what inconsistency I’m supposed to see here. The mantra across all of them is “don’t criminalize, tax and regulate, possibly age-gate”.
    ________
    ?Whatever you want to call it, it’s paid alongside your taxes in April.

  17. Weed is kick ass! Cops and politicians are stupid.

    Paul McCartney said it best: Swaying dasies sing a lazy song beneath the sun.

  18. Can anybody explain why pot is illegal in the first place? Racism? Greed? Lies? Propaganda? Paranoia? Control? Ignorance? Hate?

    1. All of the above. 😛

  19. Please consider the Federal Census stats on yearly driving fatalities from 1990 to 2009. All states, ‘legal’ or not, have seen their death rates drop, but on average, those with medical marijuana laws posted declines 12% larger than the non-medical states. Vehicle airbags helped as well, consistently throughout the country, without affecting the disproportion between the ‘legal states’ and those ‘not yet, in 2009’.

    In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating on a motor vehicle is slower driving”, which “is arguably a positive thing”.

    Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!'”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana actually encourages brain-cell growth. Studies in Spain show that it has tumor-shrinking, anti-cancer properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.
    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kanah bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair.

    Now consider the politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps on their campaign trails, but can’t face the scientific or historical truths about cannabis.

  20. What bothers me most lately is the DEA’s patented inability to even distinguish between opioids and the ancient herb cannabis, in terms of classification. Consider the Federal Census stats on yearly driving fatalities from 1990 to 2009. All states, ‘legal’ or not, have seen their death rates drop, but on average, those with medical marijuana laws posted declines 12% larger than the non-medical states.

    In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating on a motor vehicle is slower driving”, which “is arguably a positive thing”.

    Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!'”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana actually encourages brain-cell growth. Studies in Spain show that it has tumor-shrinking, anti-cancer properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.
    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kanah bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair.

    Now consider the politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps on their campaign trails, but can’t face the scientific or historical truths about cannabis.

    1. We don’t need no stinking science.

    2. Also, the FDA’s crusade against e-cigarettes is equally absurd.

  21. The Libertarian spoiler vote accounts for the GO-Pee loss in the popular vote count. But the Dems will not again be so stupid as to try to ban electric power generation instead of legalizing weed–certainly not after a decade of global cooling as measured by raw thermometer and satellite data. It was the Liberal Party that in 1932 forced the Dems to back repeal of laws making light beer a federal felony. Five consecutive victories ensued.

  22. “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.”

    ^Best Republican stance on Marijuana ever. But with their “solution” to healthcare we know most Republicans only use religion as a means to get votes.

  23. “traditionalist’s credo: When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”
    On the other hand, when the LAW says a schedule one substance must have no medical benefit, and a schedule one substance is documented to have a medical benefit, it MUST be removed from schedule one. That is a necessary change.

  24. “Law and order conservatives” aren’t actually conservative in any quantifiable way, unless they mean “conservative” on logic. Peddling hysteria doesn’t create “order”, either.

  25. Are you guys sure marijuana is still illegal?

  26. How can a “law and order conservative” possibly be in favor of drug laws? Drug laws came from the Progressive Socialist movement of the mid-late 1800s, under the reasoning that people are too stupid to have freedom and must be led by the nose by the enlightened elite. It took a couple of generations to sway opinion of America’s religious communities that, rightly so, saw federal drug laws as violating God’s Commandment “thou shalt not steal”. Even then, it took an amendment to outlaw alcohol, because (and rightly so) the conservative Constitutionalists saw federal drug laws as unconstitutional (10th Amendment; the Constitution authorizes outlawing counterfeit goods, fraudulent goods and pirated goods, and nothing else) and a violation of property rights. After Prohibition failed, the Progressives got Kafkaesque tax laws passed (as drug laws were still unconstitutional) that required drugs to have tax stamps attached, but to get the stamp you had to take your (un-taxed) drugs to the tax office, where you would be arrested for having un-taxed drugs. By the time those laws were ruled unconstitutional, in the 1970s, the Progressives had completely taken over the Republican party and the philosophy of the “right”, convinced everybody that the Constitution is a “living document” and that the “interstate commerce” clause was all the authority needed to outlaw anything.

  27. Why would a “law-and-order” conservative be in favor a law that encourages law-breaking? I think they are just “anti-fun” conservative.

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