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April 9, 2013

Fascinating (distinct/similar?) commentary on marijuana policy and politics from inside the Beltway

As regular readers know well, I find the law, policy and politics of modern marijuana reform to be fascinating.  Two recent commentaries in the Washington Post reinforce my perspective.

First, consider this notable commentary by Peter Wehner, who worked in the last two Republican presidential administrations, under the headline "GOP should stand firm against drug legalization."  I find especially telling that this piece, as excerpted below, makes a forceful argument that (big federal) government works and that drug use is a moral issue that calls for more (big federal) government intervention:

Strong, integrated anti-drug policies have had impressive success in the United States. Both marijuana and cocaine use are downsignificantly from their peak use in the 1970s and ’80s....
In his dialogues, Plato taught that no man is a citizen alone. Individuals and families need support in society and the public arena. Today, many parents rightly believe the culture is against them.  Government policies should stand with responsible parents — and under no circumstances actively undermine them....

In taking a strong stand against drug use and legalization, Republicans would align themselves with parents, schools and communities in the great, urgent task of any civilization: protecting children and raising them to become responsible adults....

[R]arely do people say that drug use is wrong because it is morally problematic, because of what it can do to mind and soul. Indeed, in some liberal and libertarian circles, the “language of morality” is ridiculed.  It is considered unenlightened, benighted and simplistic.  The role of the state is to maximize individual liberty and be indifferent to human character.

This is an impossible stance to sustain.  The law is a moral teacher, for well or ill, and self-government depends on certain dispositions and civic habits.  The shaping of human character is preeminently — overwhelmingly — the task of parents, schools, religious institutions and civic groups.  But government can play a role.  Republicans should prefer that it be a constructive one, which is why they should speak out forcefully and intelligently against drug legalization.

Now, consider this notable commentary by Jonathan Rauch, who is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, under the headline "Let’s go down the aisle toward legalized pot."  I find especially telling that this piece, as excerpted below, makes a forceful argument that (big federal) government now will not work unless it adapts to new circumstances and that drug use is a moral issue that calls for (big federal) government withdrawal in light of changing attitudes:

All but a small fraction of the people who enforce the marijuana laws work for state and local governments and answer to state law.  Although states cannot break federal law, neither must they step in and enforce it.  Federal prosecutors probably could shut down regulated marijuana distributors in Colorado and Washington with relative ease by sending threatening letters to landlords and bankers.  But that would leave those states, and others that follow, with the option of legalizing marijuana without regulating it, because unconditional legalization under state law is indisputably within the states’ power.  The effect of removing states’ troops from the battlefield would be to strand the federal government with marijuana laws it could not enforce.

The chaos that might result would be counterproductive even (or especially) for drug hawks.  Instead of shutting down the states’ experiments, then, the federal government might better serve the policy goals of the Controlled Substances Act by working with Colorado and Washington to concentrate federal and state enforcement on high federal priorities, such as preventing legalized marijuana from spilling across state borders....

In a number of important respects, marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage track closely.  Both are controversial social issues about which public opinion has changed dramatically in the past few years; on both issues, polls show the public closely divided but tipping toward legalization.

Moreover, for both issues, young people are driving the trend; older opponents of legalizing both are exiting the scene.  The issues’ demographics suggest that public opinion is virtually certain to continue shifting.  A true national consensus, however, remains some distance away, and partisan and regional differences are sharp.

In recent years, the country has pushed many controversial issues — abortion, crime, education — up to the federal level.  But same-sex marriage has taken the opposite path, with leadership left to the states.  The result, though somewhat messy as policy, has been a remarkable political success at a time when the country has few to boast of.  That some states could try same-sex marriage without betting the whole country reduced the stakes and contained the conflict.  States’ experiments with gay marriage educed valuable information about its real-world consequences, or lack thereof, allowing for a better-informed, more rational debate.

Above all, localizing the dispute gave people across the country time to work out what they think and to adjust policies as public opinion changed.... State leadership on marijuana policy has all of the same advantages as on marriage.  It contains conflict by reducing the stakes; educes knowledge about what happens if marijuana policy is changed; and allows incremental adjustment to social change.  For the federal government, yielding some measure of control over marijuana policy to the states is not a threat; it is an opportunity to manage change and preserve options.  Painting federal policy into a corner serves no one, not even drug warriors.

Though I am eager to say a lot more about both of these commentaries, but I will conclude for now with the adjective that captures most of my feelings here: fascinating!

A few recent and older related posts: 

April 9, 2013 at 12:10 PM | Permalink

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Comments

There are various strands of thought -- someone who works w/i Republican administrations would very well support a moral approach regarding certain uses of federal power while others with a more libertarian bent [he also supports federalist arguments on SSM] would argue something else. The subject might be "fascinating" in its diversity, but not sure what is notable about these two in particular.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2013 1:18:17 PM

I find the ways in which they structure and deliver their arguments fascinating, Joe, particularly because it is hard to figure out whether the moralists or the libertarians are going to have the most power in the GOP in the months and years ahead. (I personally hope it is the libertarians, but that is not where I would put my money.)

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 9, 2013 4:01:55 PM

Anyone supporting the prohibition of marijuana must support the banning of alcohol and tobacco. The latter are extremely addictive. They take the lives of 500,000 patients, the rough way. In half of murderers, murder victims, suicides, car crashers, there is an illegally high alcohol level.

The should be demanded of Peter Wehner.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 9, 2013 4:06:52 PM

Doug --

"...it is hard to figure out whether the moralists or the libertarians are going to have the most power in the GOP in the months and years ahead. (I personally hope it is the libertarians, but that is not where I would put my money.)"

1. I would hope that either moralists OR libertarians start to exert at least some power in the Democratic Party -- the moralists to do something to support the (child-friendly) values of stable marriage, honoring tradition and elders, and avoiding dangerous drugs and other criminal behavior; and libertarians to make Democrats less hateful toward financially successful people, and more likely to keep the government from the main kind of interference in private life that really rankles people: Taking the money they earn and sending it to Washington.

Relatively quite few adults out in the working world really give a hoot about smoking pot or looking at dirty pictures of six year-olds, but a whole lot of them would like to keep more of their pay.

2. The figure who will dominate the GOP in years to come is one who will unite the libertarian, fiscal conservative and traditional values wings of the Party, as Reagan and to an extent GHWB did. His name is Ted Cruz.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 9, 2013 5:12:26 PM

Bill Otis,

Ted Cruz is a megalomaniac and an arrogant buffoon. If he's the future of the Republican Party, good luck.

Posted by: onlooker13 | Apr 9, 2013 7:40:12 PM

onlooker13 --

Let me guess. That's what you were saying about Ronald Reagan in 1977.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 9, 2013 8:20:52 PM

" Plato taught that no man is a citizen alone."

hahaha remember when Hillary said "It takes a village..." and she was vilified by Republicans?

Posted by: outlier | Apr 10, 2013 1:33:43 AM

outlier --

I'm sure glad that Reagan wasn't "vilified" by the Democrats as "an amiable dunce."

I mean, they didn't really say that, did they?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 9:33:31 AM

Outlier stated: "hahaha remember when Hillary said "It takes a village..." and she was vilified by Republicans?"

And she should have been vilified, not because of what she said but because of what she thinks it means.

The problem is that Democrats (including Hillary) do not even want the "village" to raise children, but the government. To them, village=government.

Our founders correctly saw the role of the village in child rearing. It first takes two parents, a father and a mother, who are virtuous, faithful to God and spouse, prudent, and just. Then, if possible, extended family with the same qualities. The role of the village (made up of individuals with the same qualities) was to enforce these norms.

Unfortunately, progressivism has so disconnected success from virtue that the "village" can no longer be expected to play any positive role. Hell, most parents are not even worthy of their children these days. This is what we hear so often, "Yeah, she is a pothead, brings a new "uncle" home every month, is out four nights a week, and on the draw but she loves her son sooo much!"

People "love" their children so much but will not sacrifice one bit for them. Pi$$ on them for creating a generation of feral children.

That is the America we live in now.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Apr 10, 2013 10:25:15 AM

Bill Otis, I voted for Ronald Reagan twice.--He was a decent, honorable, and principled man. Ted Cruz is a McCarthy-clone, but far more ruthless and dangerous. Ted Cruz is no Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: onlooker13 | Apr 10, 2013 10:36:10 AM

onlooker stated: "Ted Cruz is a McCarthy-clone, but far more ruthless and dangerous."

Hillary Clinton eats children.

Joe Biden raped three women in college.

Barack Obama is an infanticide moderate.

I just provided three statements with as much supporting evidence as you. The difference is that one of my statements is factually correct.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Apr 10, 2013 10:52:18 AM

onlooker13 --

"I voted for Ronald Reagan twice.--He was a decent, honorable, and principled man. Ted Cruz is a McCarthy-clone, but far more ruthless and dangerous. Ted Cruz is no Ronald Reagan."

Glad to hear that you voted for Reagan, but sorry that Alzheimer's has set in.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 2:17:42 PM

Thanks for the reply and agree that Ted Cruz is not a very attractive representation of the Republican Party though he's someone to look out for since he is wicked smart and crafty, both useful to get ahead politically.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 10, 2013 5:58:35 PM

Joe --

Just out of curiosity, who would you consider to be "an attractive representation of the Republican Party?"

Please note here that I'm looking for someone who actually IS a Republican, i.e., someone who believes in the three central Republican ideas of (1) lower spending, debt and taxation, (2) a robust military to project American influence around the globe, and (3) traditional values of self-reliance, stable family life and respect for American history.

Who among well known Republicans fits that bill and makes a good Republican representative, in your opinion?

Clue: I'm not looking for the next Arlen Specter or Lincoln Chafee.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 7:21:32 PM

I always find it amusing how non-Republicans always condescendingly know who would be the best Republican representative. For some reason, it is always some squishy Republican who they puff up to be the great standard bearer (McCain was "The Maverick" in 2000 and the 2008 primaries) and then become Simon B. Sinister when up against the Democrat (McCain was "Bush's Third Term" in the 2008 general election).

Although I give Joe credit for calling Cruz smart-something they have not said about a Republican candidate in my lifetime until maybe Romney-they always find a way to slide something in like "crafty", a word associated often with dishonesty as is the comment "to get ahead politically."

It is funny how Democrats are always "smart" and never "crafty" or looking to "get ahead politically" even when we are enduring one of the least qualified and cynical presidencies in history.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Apr 11, 2013 10:01:00 AM

Again, onlooker stated: ""Ted Cruz is a McCarthy-clone, but far more ruthless and dangerous."

I asked for evidence.

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Apr 11, 2013 10:04:02 AM

TarlsQtr1 --

Don't you know by now that Lefties don't have to produce evidence? And when called upon to produce it, they can just make it up?

C'mon, Tarls, get with it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 11, 2013 3:33:20 PM

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