Permalink to On Marijuana: Get Ahead of the Inevitable

On Marijuana: Get Ahead of the Inevitable

 

National Review‘s “Sensible on Weed” piece yesterday got me thinking … not so much about marijuana, but about social movements.

Of late, conservatives are notoriously bad at understanding – to say nothing of exploiting – powerful social movements. Part of this is the essential and desirable nature of conservatism; we like to think of ourselves as grounded by deeper values than those who are susceptible to the faddish and fashionable.

The pessimistic strain of conservatism tends to believe all is lost, civilization has fallen, and the Overton Window opens only to the left. We often misunderstand even our emerging victories. On issues like attitudes toward government, guns, abortion, and education reform we’re in a better position than we’ve been in decades, even if the day-to-day political scrum sometimes distracts us from the upside.

On gay marriage, we were famously tone-deaf to the change in society that finally drove it to into the mainstream, particularly with younger voters. Society changed. It doesn’t matter how and why, and we’re not required to like it. What matters is that the change is real, and has real political implications. As I’ve said before, conservatives lost the gay marriage battle socially long before they lost it politically. The rear-guard action of trying to stop it legislatively is increasingly untenable politically.

Which is why Republicans need to get ahead of the marijuana question, and soon.

Though I grew up in an extremely permissive environment for that kind of thing, I haven’t smoked dope since the 1980s. Never was my thing, really. I don’t think it’s great. I don’t think it’s evil. I don’t think it’s a magical medicine. It’s not a revenue panacea for states, but it won’t hurt. It’s just dope. I don’t want my kids smoking it, and they won’t under my roof. There are worse things to get high on, and there are much better. (My preferred modality, like millions of Americans, is a good, stiff cocktail.)

Marijuana prohibition is like every other prohibition: it drives up costs, creates black markets, and criminalizes trivial behavior. This prohibition feeds an increasingly Kafkaesque, asset-forfeiture-driven, militarized police system, and takes up tens of thousands of prison beds that could be occupied by violent offenders. It costs billions in state and federal enforcement programs with an abysmal price-to-punch ratio.

Which is why it’s time for the GOP to seize the political benefits of getting ahead of where society is already going on the topic of weed.

I’m not saying we should blaze up at fundraisers, or that candidates need to start offering elephant bongs to donors, or that the campaign van needs a Phish sticker. But we should at least be talking about reducing the penalties, danger, and illegality for a drug that society decided a long time ago it likes.

It’s a mirror image of the tough-on-crime strategy of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Rock-hard anti-crime policies were a classic marriage of the right politics and the right policy at the right time; liberalism’s 30-year misreading of middle-class anxiety about crime and violence yielded political victories for Republicans at every level. Crime really was a national crisis for decades, and Democrats derided concern over it as nothing more than crude polemics.

But conservative Democrats needed permission to accept voting for the other party. Being tough on crime gave them the latitude to vote Republican. For example, Rudy Giuliani’s 1997 campaign was about giving New York Democrats permission to vote for Giuliani because he’d cleaned up the streets, cut crime, and closed the porn palaces. Manhattan’s elites hated it, but those policies gave a permission slip to people who wouldn’t normally vote GOP.

Now, we have an opportunity to signal to voters, particularly a younger generation of voters, that we’re not the dorky Dad Party we’ve been cast as for a generation. We have a chance to show people our rhetoric on personal freedom isn’t just a campaign talking point, and that we’re serious about ending the criminalization of everyday life. It’s a chance to let young voters say, “Well, I didn’t love Republican Candidate X on some things, but at least he’s okay about weed.”

This doesn’t mean reefer madness, either. The sweet spot for candidates is to reduce the criminal penalties for personal use, walk toward legalization without the charade of medical marijuana, and have the law treat being intoxicated on marijuana with exactly the same seriousness with which we treat being drunk behind the wheel (or any circumstance where the lives of others are at risk).

We profited at the ballot box by catching the social shift on crime. It may not feel as natural politically, but with opinion shifting rapidly on ending marijuana prohibition, it’s time for a conservative approach. We should be champions for reducing absurd sentencing guidelines, cutting spending on the failed War on Weed, decriminalizing the activities of millions of everyday Americans, eliminating black markets, and raising revenue. Conservatives should be on the leading edge of a social change in this fight, attracting new voters, shrinking the state just a little, and making political gains.

In the meantime, I’m adding snack food stocks to our portfolio.

Image via Shutterstock.

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Members have made 122 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of BrentB67 Inactive

    Rick, if this is the way forward and republicans are to adopt individual liberty position(s) do you think this an opportunity to adopt individual consequence position(s) and roll back mechanisms that tend to socialize consequences?

    My reason for asking is that making argument that the right give up a principle to stay ahead of a social wave tends not to be very persuasive, but leveraging it to other core positions might make it a powerful motivator.

    • #1
    • January 7, 2014 at 10:49 am
  2. Profile photo of Andrew Inactive

    I agree.

    • #2
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:00 am
  3. Profile photo of Merina Smith Member

    Let’s get out ahead of the polygamy movement too! Let’s get ahead of all the movements! Let’s think them up ourselves!

    • #3
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:02 am
  4. Profile photo of Ron Selander Member

    Good grief! Another post causing me to think that I’m wasting my time here!

    • #4
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:07 am
  5. Profile photo of Frank Soto Contributor

    Quick point of order, NR has supported legalizing weed since 96.

    • #5
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:10 am
  6. Profile photo of katievs Inactive

    On gay marriage, we were famously tone-deaf to the change in society that finally drove it to into the mainstream, particularly with younger voters. Society changed. It doesn’t matter how and why, and we’re not required to like it. What matters is that the change is real, and has real political implications.

    Oh. I thought what matters is what’s right and good. Silly me.

    • #6
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:11 am
  7. Profile photo of mask Inactive

    Want to decriminalize weed? Fine, lets talk about it. I don’t think our drug war makes much sense so I’m persuadable.

    But lets stop this “getting ahead of things” or “getting with the times” nonsense.

    Know what other issues we’ve lost a long long time ago? Limited government, fiscal responsibility, decentralized government, and federalism.

    So instead of standing athwart history yelling stop we’re now supposed to stand athwart nothing and be the first to jump in the river?

    • #7
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:17 am
  8. Profile photo of Tuck Inactive

    “Quick point of order, NR has supported legalizing weed since 96.”

    Pretty sure it was longer than that. I was an intern there in ’90, and NR’s position was favoring legalization even then.

    Nice post, Rick. Agree 100%.

    Here’s Buckley on pot:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Vfz2O0NXuE

    • #8
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:18 am
  9. Profile photo of Tom Meyer, Ed. Editor
    Rick Wilson

    The sweet spot for candidates is to reduce the criminal penalties for personal use, walk toward legalization without the charade of medical marijuana, and to have the law treat being intoxicated on marijuana with exactly the same seriousness with which we treat being drunk behind the wheel, or in any circumstance where the lives of others are at risk.

    I second this whole-heartedly.

    • #9
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:21 am
  10. Profile photo of Fred Cole Member

    I’m glad someone finally broke the barrier and we can talk about this on ricochet. It’s just one of those topics that we never ever seem to talk about here. There aren’t threads on it, nor does it ever seem to come up in the comments.

    • #10
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:21 am
  11. Profile photo of Inactive
    Anonymous

    I, somewhat reluctantly, agree with the article. I don’t like anything about weed — the smell, the effect, the culture — and I tend to view regular smokers quite negatively.* But something I view even more negatively is our leviathan government telling each of us what we can and cannot do.

    Like you, Rick, if it were legalized tomorrow I wouldn’t touch the stuff and would tell anyone I know not to. Much as I do now. But I support a gradual easing of anti-marijuana laws. Hell didn’t break loose with the “medical” designation and now we can learn lessons from Colorado’s legalization.

    I think heavy use of weed is bad, just like heavy use of cigarettes, booze and donuts. But there is not a need for government to enforce the healthier choices upon us.

    * I’m concerned that much of my personal distaste for weed is based not on right/wrong, but style. I look down on the ganja-huffing, dreadlocked white boy on the quad playing bongos, like I would look down on fans of Nickelback or the Oakland Raiders. Am I rooting for government to ban something because I think it’s uncouth? 

    • #11
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:25 am
  12. Profile photo of mask Inactive

    I’m shocked that a political consultant would advocate with sticking our fingers in the air and going along with whatever the kids these days want to do.

    Someone wake me up when the GOP figures out how to message and persuade people instead of trying to out triangulate and out maneuver the Democrats on convincing voters they can turn the levers of government in their favor.

    • #12
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:26 am
  13. Profile photo of Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson Post author

    I think the right policy can = right politics.

    BrentB67: Rick, if this is the way forward and republicans are to adopt individual liberty position(s) do you think this an opportunity to adopt individual consequence position(s) and roll back mechanisms that tend to socialize consequences?

    My reason for asking is that making argument that the right give up a principle to stay ahead of a social wave tends not to be very persuasive, but leveraging it to other core positions might make it a powerful motivator. · 41 minutes ago

    • #13
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:32 am
  14. Profile photo of Inactive
    Anonymous

    I see ad hominem and snark, but few compelling reasons why the GOP should maintain the war on weed. I’m kind of in the middle, wavering.

    If you want strict legal limits on marijuana, convince me that I’m wrong. 

    The great thing about Ricochet is the conversation. If you disagree with the article, write the opposing view. Both sides need to hear it.

    • #14
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:34 am
  15. Profile photo of Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson Post author

    I operate in the world as it is. Said a lot about that here: https://ricochet.com/main-feed/Culture-War-3.0-and-the-Charge-of-the-Light-Brigade

    katievs

    On gay marriage, we were famously tone-deaf to the change in society that finally drove it to into the mainstream, particularly with younger voters. Society changed. It doesn’t matter how and why, and we’re not required to like it. What matters is that the change is real, and has real political implications.

    Oh. I thought what matters is what’s right and good. Silly me. · 20 minutes ago

    • #15
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:34 am
  16. Profile photo of Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson Post author

    The difference being, of course, that there’s no broad national consensus except against polygamy.

    Merina Smith: Let’s get out ahead of the polygamy movement too! Let’s get ahead of all the movements! Let’s think them up ourselves! · 32 minutes ago
    • #16
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:36 am
  17. Profile photo of Merina Smith Member

    I don’t understand this thinking. One or two states legalize marijuana and we should jump on the bandwagon? What happened to states as units of experimentation? Why can’t we see what happens and go slowly? There are always unintended consequences that become clear after awhile. So if use greatly increases among teen-agers (a likelihood, I’d say) and addiction to harder drugs becomes much more common, and marijuana induced driving accidents go way up, we should all still jump on this bandwagon? The same with marriage. Where’s the fire? Is it possible to be sensible about these things and go slowly to see what the consequences are, or do we have to bow to the left (and libertarians for that matter) on every whim they cook up and make huge social changes in a nanosecond? Which happens because people like you advise giving up every fight without fighting or even asking for a sensible approach.

    • #17
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:36 am
  18. Profile photo of Frank Soto Contributor
    Tuck: “Quick point of order, NR has supported legalizing weed since 96.”

    Pretty sure it was longer than that. I was an intern there in ’90, and NR’s position was favoring legalization even then.

    Nice post, Rick. Agree 100%.

    Here’s Buckley on pot:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Vfz2O0NXuE 

    The ultimate point being, this isn’t NR trying to get in front of the issue, it’s been where logic has taken them for a quarter century.

    • #18
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:38 am
  19. Profile photo of Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson Post author

    Why yes…it’s what I do. I have a strong bias for victory, and an inability to not make the best the enemy of the good.

    mask: I’m shocked that a political consultant would advocate with sticking our fingers in the air and going along with whatever the kids these days want to do.

    Someone wake me up when the GOP figures out how to message and persuade people instead of trying to out triangulate and out maneuver the Democrats on convincing voters they can turn the levers of government in their favor. · 9 minutes ago

    • #19
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:38 am
  20. Profile photo of Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson Post author

    I’d counsel you to look at the CNN/ORC poll from today. Like other surveys, it shows a multi-decade increase in the acceptance of marijuana.

    Merina Smith: I don’t understand this thinking. One or two states legalize marijuana and we should jump on the bandwagon? What happened to states as units of experimentation? Why can’t we see what happens and go slowly? There are always unintended consequences that become clear after awhile. So if use greatly increases among teen-agers (a likelihood, I’d say) and addiction to harder drugs becomes much more common, and marijuana induced driving accidents go way up, we should all still jump on this bandwagon? The same with marriage. Where’s the fire? Is it possible to be sensible about these things and go slowly to see what the consequences are, or do we have to bow to the left (and libertarians for that matter) on every whim they cook up and make huge social changes in a nanosecond? Which happens because people like you advise giving up every fight without fighting or even asking for a sensible approach. · 2 minutes ago
    • #20
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:42 am
  21. Profile photo of Merina Smith Member

    Well Rick, this is what mainstream churches thought back in the 50’s and 60’s and they now face empty pews. Churches that believe in something have fared much better. What will bring victory is often counter-intuitive.

    Rick Wilson: Why yes…it’s what Ido. I have a strong bias for victory, and an inability to not make the best the enemy of the good.
    mask: I’m shocked that a political consultant would advocate with sticking our fingers in the air and going along with whatever the kids these days want to do.

    Someone wake me up when the GOP figures out how to message and persuade people instead of trying to out triangulate and out maneuver the Democrats on convincing voters they can turn the levers of government in their favor. · 9 minutes ago

    3 minutes ago

    • #21
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:43 am
  22. Profile photo of Pilli Member
    BrentB67: Rick, if this is the way forward and republicans are to adopt individual liberty position(s) do you think this an opportunity to adopt individual consequence position(s) and roll back mechanisms that tend to socialize consequences?

    My reason for asking is that making argument that the right give up a principle to stay ahead of a social wave tends not to be very persuasive, but leveraging it to other core positions might make it a powerful motivator. · 34 minutes ago

    What consequence positions do you have in mind? Like: If you smoke dope and end up in the ER, you don’t get service? What?

    • #22
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:44 am
  23. Profile photo of mask Inactive
    Rick Wilson: I operate in the world as it is. Said a lot about that here: https://ricochet.com/main-feed/Culture-War-3.0-and-the-Charge-of-the-Light-Brigade
    katievs

    On gay marriage, we were famously tone-deaf to the change in society that finally drove it to into the mainstream, particularly with younger voters. Society changed. It doesn’t matter how and why, and we’re not required to like it. What matters is that the change is real, and has real political implications.

    Oh. I thought what matters is what’s right and good. Silly me. · 20 minutes ago

    3 minutes ago

    And the GOP wonders why large parts of it’s conservative “base” are very mistrustful of the GOP.

    • #23
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:45 am
  24. Profile photo of Merina Smith Member

    But_Rick_that_tells_us_nothing_about_the_effects_of legization. _That_is my_point.

    Rick Wilson: I’d counsel you to look at the CNN/ORC poll from today. Like other surveys, it shows a multi-decade increase in the acceptance of marijuana. · 5 minutes ago
    Merina Smith: I don’t understand this thinking. One or two states legalize marijuana and we should jump on the bandwagon? What happened to states as units of experimentation? Why can’t we see what happens and go slowly? There are always unintended consequences that become clear after awhile. So if use greatly increases among teen-agers (a likelihood, I’d say) and addiction to harder drugs becomes much more common, and marijuana induced driving accidents go way up, we should all still jump on this bandwagon? The same with marriage. Where’s the fire? Is it possible to be sensible about these things and go slowly to see what the consequences are, or do we have to bow to the left (and libertarians for that matter) on every whim they cook up and make huge social changes in a nanosecond? Which happens because people like you advise giving up every fight without fighting or even asking for a sensible approach. · 2 minutes ago
    • #24
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:49 am
  25. Profile photo of Inactive
    Anonymous

    I commented elsewhere on Ricochet about the linked article. I believe it is a horrible piece of commentary and one the Left could write themselves. Don’t have time to expand except to say many media people should admit being So-Lefts and not conservative…and we wonder why we’re not winning ‘the culture war’. Here’s the comment:

    http://reason.com/archives/2014/01/06/a-ruling-for-polygamy-and-freedom

    No slippery slope here- or as NRO says they’re against the slippery slope argument but have renamed it the consequentialist case* when it suits them..(Also as the ‘slippery slope’ link states- Being on The Wrong Side History is a bad argument, too, depending on which side you’re on- an example how the So-Left uses Alinsky tactics against us) 

    *read the NRO links (all but first Reason one) when you get a chance, as I am not only shocked what a poor arguments they put up (esp. the Consequentialst case), but am beginning to see the long term nature of their propaganda- and they’re on our side, right?)

    • #25
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:50 am
  26. Profile photo of Inactive
    Anonymous

    One article about pot and this is the ad I get on Ricochet:

    Screen-Shot-2014-01-07-at-11.43.13-AM.png

    There goes the neighborhood!

    • #26
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:51 am
  27. Profile photo of Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson Post author

    Tell me where I’m wrong in that paragraph…is gay marriage the same issue it was 20 years ago?

    mask
    Rick Wilson: I operate in the world as it is. Said a lot about that here: https://ricochet.com/main-feed/Culture-War-3.0-and-the-Charge-of-the-Light-Brigade
    katievs

    On gay marriage, we were famously tone-deaf to the change in society that finally drove it to into the mainstream, particularly with younger voters. Society changed. It doesn’t matter how and why, and we’re not required to like it. What matters is that the change is real, and has real political implications.

    Oh. I thought what matters is what’s right and good. Silly me. · 20 minutes ago

    3 minutes ago

    And the GOP wonders why large parts of it’s conservative “base” are very mistrustful of the GOP. · 3 minutes ago

    • #27
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:51 am
  28. Profile photo of Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson Post author

    “This hat…you put your WEED in it.”

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: One article about pot and this is the ad I get on Ricochet:

    There goes the neighborhood! · 0 minutes ago

    • #28
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:52 am
  29. Profile photo of Majestyk Thatcher
    Merina Smith: Well Rick, this is what mainstream churches thought back in the 50’s and 60’s and they now face empty pews. Churches that believe in something have fared much better. What will bring victory is often counter-intuitive. 

    Is it just possible that something else is at work when you consider the problem of empty pews in churches?

    • #29
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:54 am
  30. Profile photo of MBF Member
    MBF

    It seems likely that the GOP would suffer a net loss of voters if it pushed for legalized pot, at least in the short and medium terms.

    But that is mostly anecdotal. The strongest base supporters for the Republican party that I know, the ones that donate time and money for elections, are not down with legalized pot. The younger libertarian-ish conservatives that I know that would favor legalized pot are not the most reliable voters (particularly in non presidential elections), and certainly aren’t the ones out doing the leg work for candidates.

    But maybe my experience is not the norm.

    • #30
    • January 7, 2014 at 11:55 am
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