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Pro-Drug War Conservatives Need to Rethink, er, REMEMBER the Role of Government

Posted on December 22 2009 7:18 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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At Pajamas Media today Mary Grabar, a thoughtful writer and an acquaintance, has an effective piece in response to a recent tragic death which has reopened an important issue that’s not discussed nearly enough:

A truly sad story about a 23-year-old Panama City man dying while being subdued by Bay County sheriff’s deputies has reawakened the debate about the legalization of marijuana. On December 11, 2009, Andrew Grande choked on a plastic bag full of marijuana as police attempted to arrest him on a violence charge. A video shows police valiantly trying to save his life once it became apparent that he was having difficulty breathing.

Two talk show hosts in Panama City have been discussing the case in the early morning hours — and revealing a divide on the right. Burnie Thompson of WYOO, the libertarian, has called Grande “a casualty of the war on drugs” and contended that because marijuana is illegal, Grande felt “compelled” to swallow a bag of it to avoid punishment.

Mary then presents a number of pro-drug war arguments and rebuttals to common libertarian, pro-legalization points. She highlights the traditional role of alcohol and the countercultural nature of marijuana. She points out that marijuana use  hampers,

the work ethic, emotional engagement, sexual inhibition, and the ability to reason.

She notices that her stoner students who advocate for drug legalization do so in an incoherent fashion. She invokes conservative icon Barry Goldwater. (However she fails to mention that Goldwater supported medicinal marijuana in his later years.)

I’m sorry Mary but I remain thoroughly unpersuaded.

The arguments for drug legalization are numerous, and so as to avoid being dismissed as one of Prof. Grabar’s Jeff Spicoli students I’ll focus on one. (If Mary would like to engage the issue further then perhaps I’ll offer more.)

A single question for which all self-described “conservatives” should have a fairly similar answer: what is the purpose of the government as the founders intended?

The federal government does not exist to make the world better. It’s not here to eliminate poverty. (Look at inner city ghettos to see how effective the Left’s efforts have been.) It’s not supposed to try and make sure that more people can buy homes. (Look at the economic crash of 2008.) The founders never intended a government which would require all citizens to buy health insurance. (Look into a crystal ball of how the next few years will turn out.) When government is shifted toward bringing about some form of utopia it fails.

The purpose of government is to protect a free society. It’s to allow for a country in which the individual is sovereign, in which every man and woman can pursue his own destiny as they see fit. If they want to create jobs and raise families they can. If they want to destroy themselves then that’s their freedom.

So how does throwing people into jail for growing and consuming a plant fit into this understanding of government?

It does not.

Thus it makes sense that Goldwater was hardly the only important conservative whose opinion of marijuana softened over the years. William F. Buckley, Jr. went even further, advocating full-blown legalization in 2004. Perhaps it’s best we close with some of his words on the subject:

And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend. If all our laws were paradigmatic, imagine what we would do to anyone caught lighting a cigarette, or drinking a beer. Or — exulting in life in the paradigm — committing adultery. Send them all to Guantanamo?

Legal practices should be informed by realities. These are enlightening, in the matter of marijuana. There are approximately 700,000 marijuana-related arrests made very year. Most of these — 87 percent — involve nothing more than mere possession of small amounts of marijuana. This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone. Most transgressors caught using marijuana aren’t packed away to jail, but some are, and in Alabama, if you are convicted three times of marijuana possession, they’ll lock you up for 15 years to life. Professor Ethan Nadelmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance, writing in National Review, estimates at 100,000 the number of Americans currently behind bars for one or another marijuana offense.

Such reforms would hugely increase the use of the drug? Why? It is de facto legal in the Netherlands, and the percentage of users there is the same as here. The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

UPDATE: Mary Grabar responds here at NewsReal.

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