Pubdate: Tue, 25 Dec 2012
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2012 New Haven Register
Author: Cathy Young
Note: Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and the
website RealclearPolitics. This was written for Newsday, Page: A12


AMONG the results of last month's elections was a startling cultural
development: Two states, Colorado and Washington, became the first to
legalize the sale of marijuana for any purpose to adults over 21.

This coincides with national polls that show increasing support for
marijuana legalization. Yet on this issue, conservatives and liberals
alike have balked at defending individual rights and states' rights.

Since 1996, when California allowed the medicinal use of marijuana, 17
more states and the District of Columbia have followed suit. A
Washington PostABC News poll three years ago found overwhelming
support for legalizing medical marijuana use: 81 percent were in
favor. More recent CBS News and Quinnipiac polls have shown Americans
almost evenly split on legalizing recreational sale of marijuana to
adults, with supporters ahead by 3 to 4 percentage points. In 1969,
only 16 percent favored legalization.

While the use of cannabis has been illegal since the 1930s (when the
name "marijuana" was popularized by opponents to capitalize on
anti-Mexican stereotypes), the ban - like Prohibition before it - can
be seen as the ultimate in intrusive government. If the state is going
to tell us there are substances we're not allowed to ingest or inhale,
there had better be a very compelling reason to justify such intrusion.

Few would join libertarian purists in advocating the legalization of
hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin; but more and more Americans
agree that marijuana is no more harmful than other legal products such
as alcohol and tobacco. Among those under 30, as many as 70 percent
endorse full legalization of marijuana.

Yet even the use of marijuana for medical reasons - such as
suppressing nausea and pain control, supported by eloquent testimony
from patients - has run into dogged opposition from the federal
government. While the Obama administration initially moved to end the
Bush administration's raids on medical marijuana distributors in
states where such dispensaries are legal (though they run afoul of
federal laws), it has reversed course toward more aggressive

On the state level, too, even limited legalization continues to
encounter strong opposition, in part because it would conflict with
federal law. In New York, the Assembly, controlled by Democrats, has
voted three times - most recently in June - to legalize medical
marijuana; the Republican-dominated Senate has blocked the bill. Gov.
Andrew M. Cuomo has straddled the fence, backing the decriminalization
of possession in small amounts but also saying that medical
marijuana's risks outweigh benefits.

You would think that both conservatives and liberals would have good
reasons to support legalization.

Conservatives have long championed small government and advocated
leaving most policy issues to the states; even if one believes that
governments have a legitimate interest in restricting marijuana sales
and consumption, there is no reason to regulate it on a national
level. Liberals have long championed the right of adult men and women
to make their own lifestyle choices regardless of social disapproval,
as long as their actions cause no direct harm to others.

The status quo is defended by powerful groups, from evangelical
Christians to law enforcement officials. Yet legislating an
increasingly unpopular morality undercuts respect for both morality
and law. And enforcing marijuana prohibition diverts resources that
could be used to fight real crime.

In our polarized environment, efforts by either political party to
move toward a more rational policy would likely be painted as
pro-drugs by the other side. So far, only mavericks such as retiring
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson
have been willing to take a pro-liberty stance on this issue.

For more mainstream politicians to follow in their footsteps would be
risky, but it would also show true leadership. 
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