Gallup reported yesterday that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor legalizing the recreational use of Marijuana. For those who have followed the polling on this issue, this was not a surprise, as trend lines have been moving in this direction for years. What is a surprise is that the question was not particularly close, with marijuana legalization winning by an astounding 58-39 margin.
My own views on this question are less informed by the question of marijuana legalization per se, and more by the insidious side effects of the Drug War and our national drug policy. In my view, the purported need for police enforcement of drug laws has led to unnecessary militarization of local police forces, the expansion and proliferation of law enforcement intrusion into increasing spheres of our personal liberty, and contributed to the very real problem of overcriminalization. Not to mention, our borderline insane drug sentencing policy has done virtually nothing to reduce the incidence of drug use and has contributed greatly to strain on federal and state budgets.
I am not suggesting that the answer here is the wholesale legalization of drugs, or even the legalization of marijuana. But I would suggest that the time has come that we ought to be willing, as conservatives, to discuss alternatives to our current drug policies without hyperventilation or accusations of licentiousness. Infringements on our personal liberty at the hands of the police tend to be not easily regained and in recent years has been an almost entirely one-way ratchet. We ought to always be willing to re-examine overrreach on the part of government, including law enforcement, without slavish deference to the claims of those law enforcement agencies. This, too, is part of what makes us conservative.
And in my view, it is time to end the Federal criminalization of Marijuana. In terms of pure federalism, the ongoing experiments in Colorado and Washington are perfect examples of the “laboratories of democracy” the founders envisioned. If Colorado and Washington are beset by a parade of horribles as a result of their marijuana policy, their state legislatures can act to curtail the problem. If they are not, the experience of Colorado and Washington can and should provide data to other states who are contemplating possible tweaks to their own code.