Pubdate: Sat, 24 Nov 2012
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Orange County Register
Author: Steven Greenhut


The election reaffirmed the big-government status quo, but there was
one good sign from the national results, as voters in Washington and
Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

SACRAMENTO - 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

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 misinterpretation 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," to a
recent New York Times analysis stated. "Tuesday's vote on the measure
in Colorado amounted to a popular revolt against the

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the grass-roots 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, GOP 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 backtracking.

 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
that 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

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 many 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

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