In the last few days, the theory that President Obama will “evolve” on marijuana legalization has made its way into the national media. One Atlantic piece, for example, compares the issue to what gay marriage was for Bush in 2004, and looks at several states where marijuana legalization could bring dividends for the President.
In 2009 Obama sent guidelines to federal prosecutors regarding marijuana enforcement, essentially telling them to only get involved if people were breaking relevant state laws. I wrote in favor of the President’s position at the time, since state rights on marijuana should be a conservative principle, though I favor states allowing small amounts of marijuana in homes and treating the substance like alcohol. No selling in the streets, etc. but citizens should be able to do what they want in their own homes without fear of invasion. Unfortunately, the President’s guidelines appear to have been mere PR, as he never really followed through on this loosening of marijuana prosecution.
Marijuana policy often brings out a major schism in the conservative movement between libertarian-leaning conservatives and social conservatives. I count myself as a member of both camps, and believe marijuana legalization should be considered an all-around conservative idea. Consider:
1. We have over three million citizens in various jails and prisons, and many of them are arrested or jailed for non-violent marijuana use. Prohibition did not work for alcohol— why do we expect it to work with marijuana laws? It seems like an inefficient use of tax dollars to deny individual liberty by punishing responsible users of marijuana who use marijuana in the same way the rest of us use alcohol: infrequently and responsibly.
In other words, rather than shrink the economic pie and increase the cost of government by throwing responsible marijuana users in jail, marijuana legalization would respect individual liberty and keep good, hard-working people employed while preventing them from sucking taxpayer money out of the system.
2. While estimates on the government’s War on Drugs spending vary, saving a couple tens of billions in law enforcement and the like would be mighty helpful. As Jack Cafferty of CNN noted in a column in March of 2009:
“What do you suppose the total price tag is for this failed war on drugs? One senior Harvard economist estimates we spend $44 billion a year fighting the war on drugs. He says if they were legal, governments would realize about $33 billion a year in tax revenue. Net swing of $77 billion.”
While Cafferty’s number obviously looks at the entirety of the War on Drugs, and I’m not a fan of even more taxation, marijuana legalization would save a substantial number of taxpayer dollars. This is a good thing both in tough economic times and anytime.
3. According to a speaker at a Catholic Theology on Tap event I attended in 2011, 60% of future inmates are the children of current inmates. Two simple philosophical changes in marijuana policy (respecting state rights and allowing people more personal freedom) would have fantastic long-term impacts on the family bonds that are often broken when parents go to jail. Want to keep families intact and have more people gainfully employed? Support marijuana legalization.
Obama may or may not “evolve” on marijuana as the economy continues to suffer and he gets increasingly desperate for votes, but regardless of what he does I hope the conservative movement is able to “evolve” its stated principles of individual liberty and state rights to at least include state rights on marijuana, if not the full legalization of marijuana.