It may seem like heresy to ask, but seriously: Why don’t Republicans support marijuana legalization? Think about it. It should totally be their thing. It aligns with their core values.
HERE’S WHY THEY SHOULD:
If you asked a Republican to invent a drug policy as if we’d never had one, but we had the data from our current, disastrous system, do you think they would choose to waste $51 billion dollars per year in an unwinnable war?
INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY / PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Aren’t Republicans supposed to stand for the rights of individuals to determine what’s best for them and their family? Aren’t Democrats supposed to be the the nanny state, curtailing entreprise thorugh big government? In this case, the roles are flipped: Republicans are micro-managing which herbs we inhale, while Democrats are eager to allow a major commodity to be properly commericalized.
NEW SOURCE OF TAX REVENUE
You may recall that California was the first to legalize medicinal marijuana back in 1996. Today, nearly twenty years later, Colorado and Washington have taken over the march, passing laws that legalized recreational usage. Now, Alaska and Oregon look to be next to legalize pot. If California follows suit and votes to legalize weed, conservative estimates suggest the state would reap $1.4 Billion dollars in tax revenue/year. Those are the sorts of numbers cash-strapped lawmakers can’t ignore.
Will legalization lead to lawlessness, stoned drivers, and teen drug abuse? The recently reported data from Colorado suggests otherwise. But beyond the numbers, here’s what Colorado’s Republican Gov. Hickenlooper told Reuters in an interview at the six-month-mark of legal weed:
It seems like the people that were smoking before are mainly the people that are smoking now. … If that’s the case, what that means is that we’re not going to have more drugged driving, or driving while high. We’re not going to have some of those problems. But we are going to have a system where we’re actually regulating and taxing something, and keeping that money in the state of Colorado…and we’re not supporting a corrupt system of gangsters.
THE WISDOM OF THE FREE MARKET
William F. Buckley, a man who was known as the soul of conservative America, along with a cadre of other conservative stalwarts like Milton Friedman and George Shultz (Reagan’s Secretary of Labor), were very famously in favor of legalization. And not just of marijuana, but of all drugs. Buckley once argued:
The data here cited instruct us that the cost of the drug war is many times more painful, in all its manifestations, than would be the licensing of drugs combined with intensive education of non-users and intensive education designed to warn those who experiment with drugs.
Free of the blinders of dogma, Buckley recognized that prohibition benefits criminals far more than citizens. Alcohol prohibition made that much easier to argue. Buckley also understood that no law reduces demand. (However, rather interestingly, data suggests that legalized weed has led to a reduction in crime in Denver, as well as overseas, in Portugal, after the nation legalized all drugs.)
The War on Drugs is a costly fool’s errand. And the data supports that opinion, as Gov. Hickenlooper has discovered. (Some scientists argue we should use those wasted dollars to fight important wars like our losing battle with antibiotic resistance.) But those reasonable arguments aren’t able to penetrate the thick muck of dogma.
HERE’S WHY THE GOP DOESN’T SUPPORT MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION:
THEY BELIEVE POT UNDERMINES BUSINESS AND SOCIETY
Jeb Bush, who’s considered the leading candidate at this point, has said he’s against legalization in his home state (although Florida is 57% in favor of marijuana legalization):
Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire. Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts.
This same failing logic has shaped the debate for decades. But anyone with eyes can see that marijuana does not endanger the ability of Floridians to start or run a business. Pot won’t make entrepreneurs suddenly hate profits. Nor does marijuana diminish Florida as a family-friendly destination for tourism. (Just ask Colorado and Washington, neither of whom are missing out on tourist dollars.) And pot certainly doesn’t decrease Florida’s value as a desirable place to raise a family or retire. (Or perhaps, Jeb Bush should tell his cousin the State Treasurer of Colorado to move for the sake of his family.)
THEY WANT TO PROTECT “FAMILY VALUES”
Defying logic and family ties, in order to appeal to the Republican base, Jeb Bush is using the same empty logic that Nancy Grace shrieks in her shrill nasal whine, when she asks, “But what about the kids?” ( According to Forbes, they’re not at risk, if anything legalization may be healthier for the kids.) Republicans need to learn: the family that blazes together stays together.
THEY WANT TO PROTECT POLICE BUDGETS
Many law enforcement groups (and their lobbyists) see marijuana legalization as a threat to their budgets. If weed is legalized, obviously, we’d require less police work since cops would no longer waste their time with pot busts. According to the ACLU, “of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana.” But what lawmakers ignore is that if cops were free from making those useless stops, they could focus on more important crime prevention. More cynically, cops would lose the assets they seize from these pot busts, which often goes directly back into police coffers, which means, local law enforcement agencies are incentivized to do raids, even in a pot-friendly state like California.
THEY’RE AFRAID OF THEIR BASE
60 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. So why won’t Republicans be taking a weed-friendly message to Iowa and New Hampshire in 2016? Two-thirds of Republican voters oppose legalization. Of the leading Republican presidential candidates for 2016, none is in favor of legalization.
Perhaps if Republicans adopted different messaging around marijauna, they could figure out how to bring their base more into then middle. Of controversial social issues, marijuana legalization is one of the least "liberal” positions to help the GOP appeal to a changing American voter-base. But they need to make their case now; and so far, Republicans can’t or don’t see this opportunity because of a set of outdated fears that defy the common-sense data and their party values.
For now, marijuana remains the mouse that scares the elephant.