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Last year, Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana, thanks to a popular initiative. I was happy with the voters’ decision, even though I’m not a fan of weed and would recommend people avoid it. Our society doesn’t need another way to avoid reality, but the drug war has staggering costs, both in personal freedom and government spending. That’s why I’m happy to see a few states roll back the restrictions on something as commonplace as pot.
Earlier this week, Ohio voters rejected a referendum to legalize grass, though this proposal also created an unwieldy cartel to distribute the product. I was fine with Ohio voters’ decision, as well. My own state of Arizona is expected to have a ganga legalization vote next year and, though I’m currently undecided, I wouldn’t be surprised if I voted against it. So why am I fine with Coloradans and Washingtonians passing around blunts, and also fine with Ohio and Arizona just saying no? It’s not as inconsistent as it seems.
The first reason is federalism. What works in Delaware might not work in Idaho, so we don’t want our betters in the Beltway issuing one-size-fits-all mandates for both states. Obviously, the federal government is essential in deciding national issues like defense and foreign policy, but whenever possible local and regional governments should decide local and regional matters. Reefer madness isn’t exactly the biggest issue on DC’s plate right now. If California wants a top state income tax rate of 70 percent and Texas wants no state income tax at all, fantastic. May the best economic theory win.
Likewise, if Ohioans frown on patchouli-soaked hippies smoking the Devil’s Cabbage while Coloradans embrace them (while holding their breath, I hope), vive le différence. May a thousand buds bloom.
The second reason I’m not adamant about the push for immediate legalization everywhere is because I’m a conservatarian, and not a full-blown libertarian. We should increase liberty and use history as our guide to do so in the best way. As Russell Kirk wrote, “the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night.” Yes, change and reform can at times be good things, but “a people’s historic continuity of experience” is very good indeed. Our society was not created ex nihilo a week ago Tuesday, but evolved slowly while maintaining a healthy dose of custom, convention, and continuity.
The last reason is perhaps my most cynical: I would prefer that other states make the mistakes, adjust accordingly, and develop best practices over several years. After that, I’m happy for my own state to adopt their tried-and-true regime, saving countless wasted years, dollars, and perhaps lives. For its part, Arizona is pioneering education reforms that are being tweaked and slowly exported to other states. Why doesn’t Phoenix focus on school choice while Denver tackles the far less urgent policies regarding righteous Kush?
Maybe I’m not being cynical. According to Kirk, Aquinas — hey, go all the way back to Plato — Prudence is chief among virtues. In drug policy as in most others, there’s no need to rush into a half-baked proposal. Though it’s tough for politicians not to jump on the fashionable ideas of the moment, few voters will be harmed by taking a few extra years to roll back cheeba codes which have existed for nearly a century.
Is my viewpoint hypocritical or is it consistent in a roundabout way? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be over here with a bag of Funyuns, standing athwart history muttering, “just chill, man.”