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February 11, 2012

Marijuana legalization advocate getting warm reception at CPAC

I am pleased and intriguied to see this new article from New York magazine headlined "Cowboy Cop Makes the Conservative Case for Marijuana Legalization at CPAC." Here is how it gets started:

Wearing a giant fat suit or a Captain America costume is one way to get attention at CPAC. Wearing a cowboy hat and a T-shirt that reads "COPS SAY LEGALIZE POT. ASK ME WHY" is another.

Howard Wooldridge is a retired police detective who now lobbies Capitol Hill for his group "Citizens Opposing Prohibition" — the prohibition on marijuana.  He made the New York Times in October of 2005 for riding a horse for seven months from Los Angeles to Times Square as a way to bring publicity to the absurdity of anti-marijuana laws. This weekend he's pleading his case at CPAC, and it's going better than you might expect.

"The reactions have been almost 100 percent in favor of what I'm doing," Wooldridge, who claims he hasn't smoked marijuana in thirty years, tells me.  "I've had about three people in the last two days out of about 200 who do not like it."  Particularly with this conservative crowd, Wooldridge debates his naysayers in terms of conservative principles.  "Personal freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government are what conservatives believe in," he says.  "And that's what I believe in. And thats what we should do with marijuana policy. I say, 'Give me a conservative reason to keep it going,' and they dont have any."

Progress is slow for Wooldridge, but rewarding. He's been coming to CPAC for the past six years, and says that four or five people have approached him over the past couple of days to tell them that, after mulling over his arguments from past CPACs, they now oppose marijuana prohibition as well. "I know from the feedback I'm getting that I'm making small gains every time I come here," he says.  "If nothing else, I create a bone that people chew on after they leave."

February 11, 2012 at 06:04 PM | Permalink

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I must have missed the CPAC resolution calling for pot legalization. Where was that?

Hows that? It's just the small strict libertarian minority that wants legalization? And even they get real quiet when the discussion turns to legalizing meth, heroin and other, similar goodies? Even though exactly the same libertarian principle applies to all drugs?

Oh, OK.

Never mind.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 12, 2012 2:49:34 PM

Indeed, not only is there no good conservative argument in favor of Prohibition, there is no good argument whatsoever in favor of it. It pretty much boils down to a lot of "THINK OF THE CHILDREN!" hysteria.

Posted by: Ben | Feb 12, 2012 3:24:07 PM

nobody is advocating legalization of anything else but pot in this article where do you get
'they get real quiet when the discussion turns to legalizing meth, heroin and other, similar goodies?' try sticking to the subject at hand next time, without interjecting more off topic tripe

Posted by: native | Feb 12, 2012 8:24:26 PM


native --

The same libertarian argument -- "It's my body and I'll put into it what I please" -- applies equally to meth and pot. Thus, although I fully understand your desire to muzzle any talk of legalizing the former, I decline to go along. If libertarians think their argument holds water when talking about Drug X, they are logically obliged to think it holds water when talking about Drug Y. One's rights to one's own body do not vary depending on the differences in external substances.

If you dislike my discussing this inconvenient fact on this blog, that's too bad. Take it up with the blog owner.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 12, 2012 10:25:46 PM

Well Bill if there is public support for legalizing marijuana there is little that could be said about legalizing methamphetamine, cocaine, hydrocodone, morphine, and opium. The DEA has scheduled marijuana as a schedule I drug - all the rest I mentioned are schedule II. Maybe they should be legalized first since they are not ranked as dangerous as marijuana. Of course that's a little tongue in cheek, but scheduling marijuana as a more dangerous drug is puzzling.

There are libertarians who believe that they don't need a law against meth to keep them from taking it. The rate of use may increase, but the addiction rate stays pretty much the same. It has to do with the individual, not the substance.

Howard Wooldridge is tireless and fearless and seems to be in perpetual good humor. I don't know him, but have seen him. He's just a kind of calm plesant person.

Shoot - I just noticed the never mind at the end of your post - I just went too far, sorry. I'll skip my last thought - don't know if it would be interesting anyway.

Posted by: beth | Feb 12, 2012 10:32:16 PM

I think we should also prohibit all forms of ethanol. Oh, wait, we already tried that.

All it did was build the feds to the biggest police force in the world. Obviously, we are not better off.

Posted by: albeed | Feb 12, 2012 10:35:07 PM

It might not be in this article, but I do in fact advocate removing all of the current laws regarding possession of such substances. I am for keeping and possibly increasing the penalties associated with misbehavior while under the influence. I also advocate removing prescription requirements for pharmaceuticals, except in the case of antibiotics and anything else where the overall use effects how well the drug might work for any given individual. For that class of drugs I think it should be much harder to acquire than is currently the case. Possibily to the point that it should be a matter of life or death before such medications are dispensed.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 12, 2012 11:57:11 PM

beth --

"Howard Wooldridge is tireless and fearless and seems to be in perpetual good humor. I don't know him, but have seen him. He's just a kind of calm plesant person."

I have seldom met a legalizer I disliked. A couple of weeks ago, I debated the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) at the University of Hawaii Law School. His name is Neill Franklin, and I have rarely met a more thoroughly pleasant, conscientious and good-hearted gentleman.

(http://www.leap.cc/university-of-hawaii-debate-with-dea-bill-otis-neill-franklin/)

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 13, 2012 1:22:48 AM

The University of Hawaii is a beautiful place. I met Neil last year when we spoke at an event. He is really a pleasure to be around.

Posted by: beth | Feb 13, 2012 10:18:20 AM

Hey Bill,

In light of your first comment in this thread, I wonder how you respond to claims on the left that the arguments for reading the Second Amendment to allow handgun possession would also seem to also justify possession of grenades and tanks and nuclear weapons for self protection. You are correct that libertarians need to come up with some kind of refined argument to explain why the forceful arguments for ending pot prohibition ought not bring an end to all other forms of drug prohibition. But why is this challenge any harder than for Second Amendment fans to say that there is a constitutional right to some kinds of "arms" but not to all of them?

In short, the issue is not what are the logical ends of the forceful arguments for complete liberty in the drugs or gun contexts, but rather at what point do we see risks of harms from possessing/using certain dangerous/harmful objects poorly overwhelm the individual rights to use these objects for personal benefit/enjoyment.

I do not know if you think we have reached just the right balance with lots of non-prohibited dangerous/harmful objects such as guns or alcohol or SUVs or cigarettes or sugar or Xanax or light bulbs or oil, but I certainly do not think we have the right balance with respect to pot. And once we legalize pot and see how that changes the cost/benefit experiences with another intoxicating substance, then we can assess whether other now prohibited drugs might likewise merit treating with more liberty than big-government control.

Posted by: Doug B.. | Feb 13, 2012 10:48:49 AM

It's odd that Bill, a lawyer, doesn't seem to understand the concept of line drawing. It's not an unusual concept in the law.

Posted by: rollo | Feb 13, 2012 12:23:26 PM

Prof. B,

Personally, I do think the 2A, properly understood, would protect owning items such as grenades, rocket launchers, even a fully armed aircraft carrier or battleship (up to an including nuclear, biological and chemical armaments) if someone could somehow afford it.

While I might have a problem with an amendment that would put grenades and other single-person portable and localized effect munitions out of bounds (it would depend on the wording whether I could support it or not), I would have no problem with an amendment that would prohibit personal possession of motorized and NBC weapons.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 13, 2012 1:42:38 PM

Doug --

It will hardly surprise you to learn that I am, for the most part, both a literalist and an originalist.

From that persective, the answer to your question is easy: The Second Amendment provides the right to "keep and bear arms." I don't know whether grenades were around at the time of the Founding, but I'm quite sure tanks and atomic weapons weren't, and even if they were, they are not possible to "bear" unless you have supernatural strength.

To cut to the chase, the original intent was to allow citizens to own rifles and pistols. For those of us in the originalism crowd, that's where the Second Amendment goes -- and where it stops.

Not that that's the end of it. In the famous Heller dictum that is so unpopular with many on this site, the Court made it clear that reasonable restrictions can still be imposed -- including, not too surprisingly, outright prohibition on those thought to be too risky to have firearms, to wit, children, the mentally defective, and previously convicted felons. (I believe all those restrictions were understood and observed at the time the Second Amendment was ratified).

In other words, there is good evidence that the Framers did not intend to extend Second Amendment freedoms beyond the firearms known to them at the time as ordinarily in a citizen's personal possession, and even there with significant restrictions. By contrast, there is no evidence I am aware of, or the Raich Court was aware of, that the Framers intended to allow possession or sale of dope (or heroin or any other drug).

"In short, the issue is not what are the logical ends of the forceful arguments for complete liberty in the drugs or gun contexts, but rather at what point do we see risks of harms from possessing/using certain dangerous/harmful objects poorly overwhelm the individual rights to use these objects for personal benefit/enjoyment."

Actually, I thought you had it right earlier when you said, in the preceding paragraph, "...libertarians need to come up with some kind of refined argument to explain why the forceful arguments for ending pot prohibition ought not bring an end to all other forms of drug prohibition."

But that to one side, this is how I see it: The Constitution by its terms provides the right to keep and bear arms, but says nothing about the "right" to dope. This latter question has, however, been addressed by the Court in Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club, and more recently in Raich.

Without getting into detail, what the Court seems to me to be saying is that it is less a Constitutional issue than a legislative one whether citizens can have acccess to drugs, and if so, to what extent and under what conditions. I view this as welcome judicial deference to legislative/electoral prerogatives. And of course I am not alone in this. To legalizers' eternal consternation, Raich was authored by the Court's then-leading liberal, Justice Stevens, and subscribed by the entire liberal bloc.

If, as I believe, the Court was correct in leaving this to the elected branches, the answers to legalizers' complaints will have to be found with Harry Reid and John Boehner.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 13, 2012 4:25:23 PM

rollo --

"It's odd that Bill, a lawyer, doesn't seem to understand the concept of line drawing."

You wanna tell me where the line is drawn in the argument, "It's my body and I will put into it WHATEVER pleases me"?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 13, 2012 4:38:33 PM

Bill,

Except that in the weapons context even privately owned warships were at least not uncommon during the ratification period. There was no weapon that existed that was reserved solely to government ownership (after all the cannon at issue at Lexington and Concord were privately owned). And that, I believe, is exactly the condition that the 2A embodies, it is meant as a check against tyrannical government far more than ordinary criminals.

Now, to untangle the drug question I would separate the federal and state levels. I believe Raiche (and even Wickard v. Filburn were decided incorrectly, that the federal government simply was not granted any such power over local commerce - and even more so over non-commerce like Raiche (Although in the case of Wickard v. Filburn I believe the federal government would have been perfectly free to say that Filburn's cattle could not be sold on the interstate market so long as he fed them any grain not subject to the legislative quota, and even make interstate sellers of cattle certify that the cattle they were selling had not in fact been fed any such grain with penalties for violations -- but that's quite a different case from what was presented). However, I also believe the states are free to have just about any drug policy they choose, from Singapore style death sentences for smuggling and canings for using chewing gum to handing the stuff out at 4th of July parades. The states are not so free on the matter of weapons becausethey are just as bound by the strictures of the second amendment as the federal government.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 13, 2012 5:53:33 PM

I wouldn't know this stuff except for watching c-span book tv this week end. I'm not sure we can really know what the 2nd amendment meant to the founders, but I suspect that they had a more independent less collective attitude about the right to bear arms.

The war of 1812 was fought and won by privateers. The British had a Navy of 2,000 while the US had 23 ships. Privateers had 517 ships, but the real force was their weapons. The US navy had 556 ship guns and privateers had 2893 guns for ships. This would compare to todays military weapons being far inferior to those of civilians.

The US Navy captured 254 ships and American privateers captured 1300. In effect, the military power was in the hands of the civilian population. I'm sure that would be considered to be a threat to the security of the nation now.

Posted by: beth | Feb 13, 2012 8:25:49 PM

Bill: If you are truly "a literalist and an originalist," are you against incorporation of the First (not to mention the Second) Amendment to the states? Plus, if you really knew history, you would know that all manner of "drugs" ranging from hemp to opium were in common usage in the Founding era.

More importantly, your eagerness to fall back on Heller and (newfangled) constitutional rulings to justify the lines you want to draw in the gun settings fails to come to terms with the heart of my response to your boogie-man assertions that arguments for legalizing pot must also extend to legalizing all other drugs. On a variety of policy grounds, one can (and should) readily distinguish between legalizing pot and legalizing other drugs --- just like we can and do decided that 16 is old enough to drive, and 18 is old enough to go to war, but 21 will be the age for legal drinking. Though the "exact same libertarian principles" apply to lots of activities, we still draw all sort of legal distinctions to serve a variety of other goals (some libertarian, many not).

Most importantly, as I suggested before, it seems wise to move cautiously in this arena, which itself provides a reason to only legalize pot at the outset and see how that goes.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 13, 2012 11:17:28 PM

You hit it right on the head there beth!

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 13, 2012 11:22:29 PM

Soronel and beth --

Mindful that I am fallible (to say the least), and knowing both of you to be honest and credible, I will amend my prior stance.

I had said, "To cut to the chase, the original intent [of the Second Amendment] was to allow citizens to own rifles and pistols." I am willing to change that to say, "The original intent [of the Second Amendment] was to allow citizens to own rifles, pistols, and private 'warships' made of wood and having the size, firepower and accuracy of the private 'warships' that existed on December 15, 1791."

I suspect I haven't conceded much with this, as I think most such "private warships" consisted of a guy in a large canoe-like object firing something resembling bowling balls at the enemy, but, even if they were more fearsome than that, I bow to your superior knowledge of history.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 13, 2012 11:34:14 PM

By the mid seventeenth century all Virginians were required to grow hemp. If you think this wasn't used for smoking and "medicinal" purposes you would be wrong. The phrase "smoking rope behind the barn" is self explanatory. At the beginning of the 20th century cocaine was used for teething children and for stomach ailments and many other discomforts.

I have a picture of family farms in Iowa - on the back is written "Our Hemp Field"

It's not difficult to find ads for cocaine, opium and cannabis.

Posted by: beth | Feb 13, 2012 11:44:34 PM

Doug --

"More importantly, your eagerness to fall back on Heller..."

I had not previously been aware that citing and correctly describing governing Supreme Court law was "falling back" on anything, but I would be impolite to quibble.

"...and (newfangled) constitutional rulings to justify the lines you want to draw in the gun settings fails to come to terms with the heart of my response to your boogie-man assertions that arguments for legalizing pot must also extend to legalizing all other drugs."

But they're not my assertions and not my arguments. They're the assertions made by such people as the fellow you celebrate in your title, "Marijuana legalization advocate getting warm reception at CPAC." You want to snuggle up to libertarian theory for its appeal to conservatives, but then disown it when it's pointed out that it proves too much. At that point, the once-lauded libertarian argument gets shoved into the basement, and we are directed to turn to policy gradations.

But the libertarian theory is stubborn, and insists on climbing the stairs back to join the conversation in the living room. As well it might. Both the emotional gravitation and the internal logic of libertarianism stick up their noses at such gradations. "It's my body and I will put into it whatever I want."

Q: Where are the "gradations" and "policy considerations" in that central anthem?

A: Totally absent.

You can't have it both ways. If you want the energy libertarianism brings to the legalization battle, and you want to appeal to conservatives attracted precisely to the purity of its principle, you can't -- after reeling them in -- pull the switcheroo and scamper to pharmacological gradations when it's pointed out that, "I'll put whatever I want in my body," extends exactly the same invitation to meth as it does to pot.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 14, 2012 5:22:48 AM

Bill, you are the one who brought libertarianism into this conversation at the outset, perhaps because you recognize that attacking the prospect of meth legalization is easier than attacking the prospect of pot legalization. Most critically, in the posted article, the advocate at CPAC says: ""Personal freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government are what conservatives believe in.... I say, 'Give me a conservative reason to keep it going,' and they dont have any."

Perhaps you can rise to the challenge and provide a conservative reason to support POT prohibition. That is the key policy topic for consideration, and all else is a distraction at least in the short term when only pot legalization is up for serious modern public policy discussion.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 14, 2012 8:37:00 AM

Bill - your silence is deafening.

Posted by: Where's William? | Feb 14, 2012 1:47:02 PM

Where's William? --

"Bill - your silence is deafening."

Take a hike, nimwit. Doug put up his response at 8:37 a.m. That's 3:37 a.m. my time. It's now 9:21 a.m. my time. I didn't know I was required to live in the same time zone. Did you just make that up?

Not that it makes all that much difference. I will respond to whom I want when I want, or not at all, as I choose. Got that, hotshot?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 14, 2012 2:22:27 PM


Doug --

I don't know whether I should start off with an apology for not getting up at half past three in the morning to write a response, as your halfwit acolyte "Where's William?" demands.

OK, I admit it, that wasn't very nice. I don't think you recurited that particular acolyte. As you know firsthand, I enjoy debating legalization with you. Just not at that particular time of day.

"Bill, you are the one who brought libertarianism into this conversation at the outset, perhaps because you recognize that attacking the prospect of meth legalization is easier than attacking the prospect of pot legalization."

I may have brought the WORD libertarianism into the conversation, but I most assuredly was not the one who brought in the concept. That was done by Mr. Woolridge, the hero of the article you chose to headline this post.

The phrase "limited government," which Woolridge uses (as do you) can have a couple of meanings. The standard meaning it has in conservative circles is a scaling back of the welfare/entitlement/administrative state, with its gargantuan and utterly unaffordable social spending, endless business regulations, high taxes and unending debt. I believe I am better acquainted with conservatism on a daily basis than you are likely to be, and THAT is what conservatives actually care about. For the most part, drugs -- pot on anything else -- don't even get on the radar screen.

There is, however, a somewhat mutant strain of conservatism, represented by the increasingly irrelevant Ron Paul, that does occupy (or preoccupy) itself with drug policy. Mr. Woolridge is easily identifiable as that sort. (This is not to say that he or Ron Paul are bad people; it is only to say that their brand of conservatism is not all that near mainstream conservatism).

When Mr. Woolridge -- as opposed, say, to Ronald Reagan -- talks about the virtues of "limited government," he is sounding a libertarian theme. It is no coincidence that the other "conservatives" you have occaisionally highlighted in your posts, e.g., Gary Johnson, are principally identified not with Reagan/Bush conservatism (which is my brand), but with libertarianism. Indeed, Johnson is so identified with it that he has left the Republican party and is seeking the Libertarian party nomination, and there is speculation that Ron Paul may do the same.

In other words, you are mistaken in believing that I interjected libertarianism here as a dodge. Libertarianism is at the center of so-called "conservative" opposition to current drug policy, and I'm not the one who put it there.

Indeed, I would suggest that precisely the opposite is the case. It's the legalization movement that's dodging. That movement feeds off libertarianism (which is why you've had numerous legalization-related posts about Ron Paul and some about Gary Johnson) but almost completely refuses to discuss where libertarian purity inevitably leads -- to the legalization of everything. That is a clever -- indeed a necessary -- political decision, but falls short of intellectual honesty, as many political decisions do. It is a standard and perfectly legitimate point to note the logical ending point of the opposition's argument, and I think it's fair game for me to do it.

As to your question regarding a conservative reason to support pot prohibition, that's easy. Conservatives value the physical safety and well-being of the citizenry. That is why we want something other than feckless diplomacy done about Iran before it gets the A-bomb. It's why we support incarceration, which has significantly helped reduce violent and other sorts of crime over the last two decades. And it's why we oppose increased drug use, which legalization is certain to bring about.

Illegal drugs are destructive to the user and to society. The question isn't whether they're helpful. They aren't. (Do you want to teach class stoned? Drive? Run the marathon? Make any important decision about your life?) The only serious question is whether the destruction is moderate, as I will assume with pot, or horrible, as with meth, heroin and several others.

To me, it's mind bending to want to ADD to society's present ills by green-lighting increased drug useage, even assuming the added damage is only moderate (which in the aggregate is a very questionable assumption). Drug useage should be suppressed, not increased by being made easier.

Legalization will make it easier and even more widespread. Therefore I am against it. Those who wish to avoid criminal penaties (such as pot penalties actually are in real life) have an easy option: Stop. It's hard to conceive of a crime that's easier to avoid than pot smoking. And when they do stop, all the costs of enforcing the law against pot (to the extent it gets enforced) will wither away.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 14, 2012 4:04:09 PM

Bill I understand your vision of what conservatives are. I just think that an increasing % of the conservatives in the republican party are beginning to believe that the Bush administration was not fiscally conservative. That same % no longer sees some of the social issues they formerly supported as being compatible with a smaller less intrusive government.

The support of these libertarian leaning republicans is crucial to republicans if they hope to be successful in coming elections. They need the full complement of republicans and must have the support of a sizeable per cent of the growing number of those identified as independents

Current reality does not resemble the 80s. I wouldn't say there is anarchist sentiment a-la Emma Goldman, but in some areas it's getting close. Politicians will put their finger in the wind.

These people worry about crony politics, government workers pensions, medicare and social security, the fact that the government is the biggest purchaser of good and services in the world (not just the US). They can go on and on and they are right to worry. Our criminal justice system and prison population is part of this mix. Marijuana prohibition fits into this excessive government model perfectly.

As a side note, Michael Jacobson of Vera Institute was interviewed on c-span yesterday. There were no call ins supporting continued incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.

Posted by: beth | Feb 14, 2012 4:43:00 PM

Where's William --

Your silence is deafening.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 15, 2012 12:53:21 PM

Where's Willam --

Still deafening.

How's that? You never had any intention of contributing to the analysis of this question? You just wanted to play blogmeister by demanding that I get up at three in the morning to answer someone else's post? And then when called on it, you slip away into silence? To use another snippy alias in the future? No argument, no analysis, just the anonymous drive-by snark?

My, my.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the latest edition of what druggies consider "adult behavior."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 16, 2012 1:02:16 PM

hmm well bill you could say it's right up there with the so-called "adult behavior" we keep seeing in our unelected officials in washington!

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 16, 2012 9:05:29 PM

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