By: Philip Stevens
American conservatives; we are not the most vocal proponents of marijuana. We are proud to be in good company too, as most of the country hasn’t tried it either. Whether it’s to preserve America’s sense of morality, traditional values, or faith; we believe our country is better off without it. Increasingly though, we are losing the popular vote over legalization. Possession is no longer a crime in Washington D.C., and its national news that Washington and Colorado are the first states to legalize recreational use. As of 2013, the majority of Americans now support its full legalization. Nearly two-thirds of the still-young Millennials support its legalization, and Baby Boomers’ support has grown to its highest since the 1970s. Fellow conservatives, we need not abandon our values to find our place in a modern pro-pot era. The following three reasons are why all conservatives should support the recreational use of marijuana.
I. Individual Liberties
If there is any term that we believe in as modern conservatives it is liberty; particularly, individual liberty. In common conversation, it refers to the ability or freedom to exercise one’s rights free of restriction or interference from others. These may include constitutionally-protected rights, such as speech or the right to assemble, or a general principle of non-interference of both the federal, state, and local governments in our lives. We like the public kept out of our private lives.
The exceptions to these are, proudly, far and few between. For example, in 1990, the Supreme Court of California ruled a patient had no right to profits from his discarded body parts in Moore v. Regents of the University of California; essentially we have no liberty to sell our body parts. Further, Congress through the Sherman Act of 1890 (and the commerce clause of the Constitution) also began regulating corporations, which are persons after Dartmouth College v. Woodward, by restricting them from forming trusts; a major step into regulating an otherwise true laissez faire-style market. Last, the States can regulate activity that poses a risk to the public health or safety. Conservatives accept these limited restrictions to our otherwise staunchly defended individual liberties.
Why then, is marijuana illegalization an accepted restriction as well? Marijuana is not harmful. In fact the first cannabis-related deaths were only just recorded this year. One can search ad eternum for marijuana-related injuries, but will only find those related to confrontations between users and law enforcement. In fact, it is well known that cannabis may even inhibit tumor growth. For these reasons, the States are inevitably legalizing it.
Marijuana is not one of the limited restrictions of our liberties which conservatives should accept. Drugs such as cocaine or methadone, dangerous in nature, are limited, as they should. Monopolies which could harm healthy business competition or the sale of body parts which incentivizes affixing prices to people are dangerous activities. Conservatives should champion these restrictions. However, marijuana poses no danger. Its illegalization only arbitrarily infringes our liberties. As conservatives, we should despise such an overstepping of government into the private lives of its citizens.
II. The Election (And a Few more Afterwards)
The 2016 presidential election is on its way. News-outlets are already ripe with speculation, and for good reason. The Republican Party and its presidential platform are in desperate need of a reboot. You need not read past the first pages of any newspaper or magazine to understand this dilemma. The GOP, which most conservatives still vote for, lost the previous election by 126 electoral votes, and the 2008 election by 192. It has not earned fifty-one percent of the popular vote since the Democrats placed a momentum-less Michael Dukakis on their electoral ticket nearly 20 years ago. Conservatives need this election or risk losing the identity of their party.
What does marijuana have to do with the elections? Only thirty-seven percent of Republicans favor legalization. There will be no republican running a pro-pot campaign, but also no Nixon‑era “War Against Drugs” platform either. If conservatives are to champion this election, we have to demonstrate our candidate and party are in touch with the American people. As citizens both young and old, become receptive to pot legalization, we cannot afford a candidate who thinks otherwise. We need a candidate in favor of a small efficient government, and against restrictions and impediments to our liberties. These are central and popular conservative values which can win an election. What better place to start cutting the budget of our federal system than in the war against otherwise law-abiding pot smokers?
Unfortunately, no Republican candidate will run in 2016 with a proposal to legalize under their arm. Too many Republicans want it to stay illegal. A candidate saying otherwise would alienate the GOP’s base. However, a platform of strong individual liberties, small government, lower taxes, and a reduced deficit is a great start. Federal legalization could easily spring from a GOP president, provided conservatives learn to accept recreation marijuana users as otherwise law-abiding citizens. If we cannot learn the trends of American society, gaining the Oval office will become more difficult election after election. Molly Ball from The Atlantic asks the key question, “[s]imply put, do Republicans want to be on the losing side of yet another culture war?”
American business is a defining factor of our country and part of the “The American Dream.” The greatest companies in the world call America home, along with millions of small businesses dotting every city and small town. Our businesses are the productivity hub of the world and if you want your company to succeed internationally, you must compete in the American market. We proudly tout the prowess of our economy over the rest in the world stemming from our emphasis on productivity and exchange. Business is what we do best.
Regarding marijuana and business; legalize it, tell the Food and Drug Administration, and open for business. There are billions of dollars of untapped potential. It is estimated the market could be large as $120 billion per year. Yet growers are limited due to constant enforcement. Further, drug cartels smuggle their product in along with more dangerous drugs, weapons, and people. If given the chance, American businesses could thrive from this market, undermining the cartels. Growers could buy plots of land and distributors could set up shop in otherwise empty lots. Before long, the market could see its first marijuana‑based publicly traded company. Even state and federal governments could gain a much-needed source of tax revenue and save from reduced enforcement, correctional facility, and court costs. We cannot afford to restrict legitimate business. If you are unconvinced by my first two reasons, believe this one.
IV. Final Thoughts
I never smoked marijuana, and I never will. That it is illegal and does not affect many of us does not mean inaction is acceptable. Instead, let us work to end this restriction of individual liberty and build American business. Our doctrine facilitates the process of legalization better than any others. We have to tools; let us make history.