Republican Rhetoric v. Reality: A Conservative Case for Legalization


Early this year, I came out of the closet as a conservative cannabis proponent in a letter to the editor in the Billings Gazette. The next four months were a whirlwind of hearings, protests, pleas, and rants… with a mote of hope thrown in there occasionally.  In that time, I heard a recurring theme from prohibitionists across the state.  They repeated dutifully some variation or another that Montana voters were duped into a  pseudo legalization of cannabis when they were under the impression that only terminally ill patients would be using it, and that this wasn’t what Montanans voted for.  They expressed fear that the cannabis industry would begin to buy elections and recruit its own candidates.  The GOP’s anti-cannabis sheep were certain that medical use of marijuana in Montana was only a stepping stone to full-out legalization of the substance.

In 2004, when Montanans voted to approve the use of medical cannabis, I was an active (if you can call it active) member of the local Republican Women’s group.  Prior to the election, the group began peddling fear and ignorance-based rhetoric-primarily directed at I-148- at a level so extreme, I resigned from the group permanently.  I am not a marijuana user personally and although I did support the issue at the time, I wasn’t intimately involved with the initiative and I really can’t admit with any honesty whether or not the medical law was designed to lead to legalization.   For many reasons as an industry,  we have tried to avoid the legalization issue entirely, but I am going to say it now.  Marijuana should be legal and conservatives should OWN this issue for many numerous reasons…. I won’t, however; hold my breath.

Jobs– The 2010 campaign season was dominated by promises to create a more favorable job climate in our state.  Legalizing and regulating marijuana would create many jobs in numerous industries.   Whether or not MTCIA is successful in temporarily halting SB 423 will have little or no affect on the number of cannabis users in Montana.  Montanans have been smoking pot forever and they will continue to do so regardless of the GOP’s mission to purge the scourge.  Republicans should accept this and embrace the movement.

Fiscal Responsibility/Government Waste– Fiscal responsibility means limiting government expenditures for programs that can be convincingly said to generate benefits in excess of their costs. America’s war on drugs is a miserable- and EXPENSIVE- failure.  In 2009, over 700,000 Americans were prosecuted for marijuana crimes, most (87%) for simply possessing small amounts of the substance.  National Review estimates that approximately 100,000 people are currently imprisoned in the US solely for marijuana crimes. Prior to being arrested, a vast majority of these “criminals” were functioning and taxpaying members of society.  After conviction of a drug crime, many are unable to find work.  In many cases, they enroll in public welfare programs or they turn to crime, either avenue further draining society.  We’ve spent over a trillion dollars on fighting the “war” on drugs- with most of that sum funding anti-marijuana efforts, not meth, heroin, or cocaine.  Considering not even ONE person has died directly from marijuana use/overdose/interaction, wouldn’t rational human beings consider that maybe, just maybe; this isn’t working? Every year, prescription drugs kill at least 300 Montanans, but rarely (except for Bullock’s recent PSAs) do we hear anything about the dangers lurking in our own medicine cabinets. The reality is that over 100 million Americans have experimented with marijuana.  Very few of them actually use it habitually, certainly some do, but that is hardly justification for utilizing the government nanny. Intelligence and logic should still apply, even when we find issues distasteful.  It is truly amazing that  otherwise informed people are influenced so heavily by fear.   It makes sense to reduce budgets on programs that are unnecessary and ineffective.

State Sovereignty–  The Tenth Amendment reads

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  It required a constitutional amendment to prohibit alcohol and it should for other issues as well.   Regardless of party affiliation, Montanans have an independent streak and most don’t appreciate intervention from the federal government.  Ranchers- Republicans and Democrats-were poised to protect their cattle from wolves, even if that required breaking federal law.  A majority of Montanans want to opt out of federal healthcare reform- and that legislation was written by our own Senator Max Baucus. Montanans said NO to Real ID.  We passed the Firearms Freedom Act, which excludes firearms manufactured in Montana from federal regulation.  Montanans don’t want a nanny.

TEA People– Legalizing marijuana is also a perfect issue for the Tea People- it could easily represent each of the core facets of their “movement”- fiscal responsibility,  constitutionally limited government and free markets.  Throw in one of their favorite amendments- let’s go with the 10th- and we SHOULD have the Mad Hatter’s wet dream.  Montana Tea People, however; are not that interested in liberty unless it adheres to their rather strict religious standards.  The Tea people rant about smaller government and more freedom- marijuana would certainly fall under that umbrella, but no… the Tea people screamed “RINO” at the only Republicans with the balls to vote against the majority.  Finally, drug prohibition is hopelessly inconsistent with allegiance to free markets. Free markets should mean that as long as such practices don’t harm others, businesses can operate as they please and consumers can consume what they want.

The hypocrisy of Montana Shrugged

Safety– While not necessarily a conservative principle, safety is something everyone can appreciate and the Safe Community, Safe Kids repeal group certainly exploited the term, so it is fair game.  If marijuana was legal, it would be regulated and thus, more likely to be safe.  It would be purchased from a reputable purveyor instead of an unscrupulous drug dealer.  The product would meet minimum standards of quality and safety providing peace of mind that you aren’t smoking carcinogenic chemical residue, fungus, or spider mite bodies.  Inflated prices were announced immediately after passage of SB 423.  Remove the prohibition element, prices fall.

Liberty and Individual Freedom– While no party has the monopoly on liberty, they all seem to have a different definition or interpretation of the word.  Only I own my body, the government should have no jurisdiction over what I put in it.  What I do after I put substances in it is another story, but hardly requires federal legislation.

Consider for a moment how we now view these people….

Is this REALLY the sort of legacy conservatives want to leave?

Science/Medical– Science easily justifies the medical use of cannabis as well as affirms the substance’s relative safety for non-medical use.  Compounds in marijuana shrink tumors associated with several particularly deadly cancers and there is evidence that marijuana actually prevents some cancers from occurring. I’m well aware  that as a party, we are proud of our resistance to change.  Advocates across the nation watched Montana’s legislative process intently.  The legislature had the opportunity and the means to create thoughtful legislation representing conservative  and pro-business principles.  Instead, religiosity reigned and Republicans abandoned conservative principles in favor or a religious, big government/control freak agenda. Overwhelmingly they chose the regressive approach and alienated plenty of independents and Republicans as a result.

While it appears there is a fair chance that through the referendum process and key legal challenges, the industry will be able to stop the law until the voters have the opportunity to speak again on this issue in 2012, I feel the need to question the sanity of the GOP leadership.  The GOP-led legislature received a 14% approval rating from Montanans.  Instead of creating stellar- hell,even marginal- legislation to regulate Montana’s medical marijuana program, they  chose to essentially repeal. If marijuana is on the 2012 ballot,  Republicans will have only themselves to blame for mobilizing  liberal voters.  Montana’s Republican legislators, in failure; gave the Democrats the greatest gift of all.  But what do I know?  I’m just a dirty conservative hippie… or something.

Conservatives out there, if you can back up your argument, bring it.  I welcome debate  on this issue because I really want to understand.

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10 thoughts on “Republican Rhetoric v. Reality: A Conservative Case for Legalization

  1. In my opinion, ending the War on Drugs, in particular cannabis prohibition, is entirely consisent with conservative ideology. My father is an 84 year old, knee jerk conservative Republican. I have discussed the attempt to repeal I148 with him on numerous occasions. He has never smoked marijuana and never will. But he, like countless other Montana conservatives, believes in individual freedom and in capitalism and in free markets and in the sanctity of voter initiatives. When I told him what the T-people in MT were doing, he was outraged. “Voting to Repeal a Voter Inititative is Illegal” he said. When I told him how lucrative some of the MMJ business were, he was ecstatic to see the principles of capitalism and free markets at work, and working just as they should. When I told him about SB423’s provision of “taking the profit out” of MMJ, he said, “That’s unconstitutional”.

    I, myself, have smoked cannabis for 38 years. During that time, I raised a family, put myself through college and ended up with an advanced degree in Microbiology, and have worked steadily since I got out of college. I smoked marijuana, and smoked it heavily, the whole time. I got straight A’s in college, and have been given performance based monetary awards every year I’ve been employed. Do I sound like any of the “stoners” and “dopers” we see referred to all the time by the opposition? I make $75,000 a year, and I plan to send a substantial amount to the MCIA group even though I have no card and am not a pr0vider. I can’t tell you how many professionals like myself I know who use marujuana in the “closet”. And they, like me and my dad, will be voting to end this suppressive move by the MT legislature called SB423.

    • Thank you John, and you are welcome. Your article included quotes from some of my very favorite conservatives (Friedman, Buckley, Paul) although one could argue that most of todays conservatives are big government, warmongering neocons and the ones I mentioned are actually libertarians. 🙂 I think that the ignorant prohibitionist Republicans are outnumbered by those of us who value fiscal responsibility and adherence to the constitution. The SCSK ladies wouldn’t have been nearly as effective (although I wouldn’t consider them exactly effective either) if they weren’t also intimately involved with legislators. If they had to work like the rest of Montanans, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to spread their dishonest and vile rhetoric with other legislators. Imagine if our side had female moles inside covertly coercing the mushy repressed Republicans.

      A few legislators wrote me off during the session, calling me a one issue voter (although I worked hard to help get them elected in November). I will admit that is true…. because my one issue is liberty. Liberty should inspire ALL AMERICANS to condemn the actions of the legislature as well as the resulting rubbish (SB423) as affronts to Montana’s legislative process. Those who relinquish liberty in the name of safety deserve neither.

  2. It’s true that the politicians within the Republican party that we can align ourselves with are Libertarians. They’re trying to find an audience with the Republicans because the Libertarian party doesn’t have enought power yet to do anything. It’s almost like the Republican party is 2 parties right now–the Libertarian faction and the Religious Right.

    • Don’t forget about the neocon wing. I’m tired of choosing the lesser of two evils, I realize that in the end, we really only have the choice of one party or the other, but I doubt the Republicans will ever produce a nominee that I could enthusiastically support. I’ve been defriended on Facebook recently as I support Ron Paul- regardless of his electability. He is the only candidate with a strong constitutional voting record. He is the only candidate with the balls to end the fed and institute the type of reforms we desperately need fiscally. If we have no economy, who cares about green energy and healthcare reform? If our economy tanks, we will be sitting ducks thanks in part to our meddling in the disagreements between other nations. I could go on and on about this, so I better shut up.

    • It’s almost like the Republican party is 2 parties right now–the Libertarian faction and the Religious Right.

      Agree. At the State level I would say the Religious Right is WAY ahead. There are very few legislators that the Republican Liberty Caucus (http://www.rlc.org/ ) would endorse again.

      The Republican Party seems to be made up of at least 4, and possibly more, factions. You have the Fiscal Conservatives, the Fiscal Moderates, the Social Conservatives and the Social Moderates. Anyone can belong to more than one category and the Religious Right is scattered across all of them except the Social Moderates. I’d say there are also a few Libertarians and Constitutional Party legislators that have an R behind their name.

  3. You and I are in agreement about Ron Paul, and I, too, support him. This remarkable man has spent his life educating himself about our constitution and how the principles practically apply in today’s world. I like the fact that he is a doctor and not a lawyer. I think he is a fair man of integrity and honor. Not too long ago, I shared a piece he wrote about ending the War on Drugs with my most conservsative acquaintaince and my most liberal acquantance. All 3 of us were 100% behind his ideas. In his simplicity and LACK of intrusion into personal freedoms, his policies elegantly create the perfect atmosphere for so many things that you and I and many others hold dear. And he knows how to have a moral opinion and yet separate it from imposing his morality upon others. As for those wars, I’m with ya there too!

  4. The scariest thing about all these factions is that they make Mr. Obama much more electable. How can we unite and avoid another socialistic 4 years, but not be beaten down by the Religious Right? We must find a way.

  5. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has great numbers about the money we are wasting.
    Ron Paul is the most logical of all I agree. It was good to see that Trump dropped out.

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