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May 21, 2014

"[A]nybody who’s a limited-government conservative can’t ignore the decades-long record of all of this money wasted and how ineffectual [the drug war has] been"

MalkinThe quote that makes up the title of this post is one from this interesting and very lengthy recent profile of Michele Malkin from the Denver Post. The piece is headlined "Michelle Malkin: Conservative hero and marijuana advocate," and here are some excerpts:

Michelle Malkin is one of the most revered conservative voices in America, and yet the author, columnist and commentator also actively supports medical and recreational marijuana.

“The war on drugs has been a failure. Prohibition was also a failure,” Malkin said recently, drinking coffee at a diner near her Colorado Springs home. “And pointing out that mainstream hospitals are administering these far more pernicious narcotics to terminally ill patients undercuts this whole idea that marijuana is this dangerous gateway.”

Surprised to hear such progressive talk coming from a conservative? Join the club. If you’re not surprised you’ve likely been reading Malkin’s missives for years. The pro-marijuana conservative is a growing segment in the U.S. political spectrum, something we’ll see more of in the November elections. Malkin’s intensely personal story — dating from her time at the Seattle Times in the ‘90s to her mother-in-law’s current struggle with metastatic melanoma — is a potent example of why these two strange bedfellows are becoming increasingly familiar....

But Malkin didn’t always feel that way.  When she left the LA Daily News for The Seattle Times in the mid-90s, she was as anti-marijuana as most Republicans were at that time. But after a chance debate with the late Seattle medical marijuana advocate Ralph Seeley, who died in 1998 of a rare bone cancer after suing the state to allow marijuana to be prescribed medically, she changed her mind on the issue.  Seeley’s arguments were legitimate, Malkin said, and less than a year after his death Washington voters approved medical marijuana.

“People always ask me, ‘When have you ever changed your mind?’ I tell them, ‘Ralph Seeley changed my mind’,” said Malkin.... “I was on a local public TV debate, and at the time I was a fairly orthodox law-and-order, pro-war on drugs conservative columnist. I would accept at face value anything Bill Bennett had claimed about the war of drugs.”

“Of course it’s been an abysmal trillion-dollar failure, and anybody who’s a limited-government conservative can’t ignore the decades-long record of all of this money wasted and how ineffectual it’s been. But going back to the debate with Ralph Seeley: We were on the opposite side of the debate, him in his wheelchair and he had chordoma, an awful degenerative cancer in the spine. He was paralyzed with a trach. He was so articulate, and you couldn’t argue with his facts.”

Just like that Malkin — who jokingly refers to herself on occasion as a “right-wing nut-job” — switched over to the pro-marijuana side of the debate. And nearly two decades after her initial change of heart readers came across her recent “My trip to the pot shop” column on March 25, 2014....

There’s a philosophical and literary hook in Colorado’s mountainous landscape for Malkin, too.  “For Libertarians, of course, Colorado is a special place because it’s Galt’s Gulch, in the Ayn Rand novels,” said Malkin. “The appeal is it’s the last, best sanctuary of the bulwark against the meddling state. And it’s real — it’s not just a fictional sanctuary. It’s real for many people, and those stories of those families moving here from New Jersey underscores that, and it resonates with me because that’s how we feel about Colorado.”...

Marisol Therapeutics is a recreational pot shop in Pueblo West, just 47 miles from Uncle Sam’s Pancake House — and Malkin’s nearby home. (Colorado Springs doesn’t allow recreational marijuana shops.)  The shopping experience, from the initial decision to head south to the storm of comments that followed in the wake of the article, was a historic one for the Malkin family.

But what will Michelle remember the most from her first time buying legal weed? “What an incredible experience it was to walk into the shop and have the understanding and compassion of somebody in the business of providing healing,” Michelle said. “A lot of people from out of state, New York or DC, would parachute into our state and sneer at the so-called ‘medical veneer’ that a lot of these shops have.  But there’s no denying the reality that these places provide the services that people want and need, and that was the upshot of the column.”

The column created a whirlwind of activity on Malkin’s website, both positive and negative.  But the takeaways steeled her resolve and gave her a new found perspective. “When I was at the shop, I told my husband that the clerk seemed like a Libertarian to me,” Malkin said.  “What were they doing? They were complaining about the regulations, the bureaucracy, the taxes. Here’s your natural outreach into a nontraditional constituency, right?”

Malkin splits from party-line mob mentality in that she doesn’t believe that marijuana is a gateway drug — “but speaking of gateway drugs, I think this is a gateway policy issue. It’s a gateway for getting people to start moving beyond traditional right and left politics. And I think that’s a good thing.”...

On protecting the Second Amendment and decriminalizing drugs:  “There has been such an infantilization of citizens by the nanny state that it becomes easier and easier to swallow rationalizing increasing the power of government as a way to protect people from both social harm and self harm.  And for people who think about liberty and how the power of the state should be limited, it bothers me greatly that we’ve redefined what social harm is and that there’s been this encroachment on people’s ability to do whatever they want and in their own homes as long as it doesn’t impose social harm outside of your home.  As long as I’ve been thinking about these issues, dating back to my days in Seattle, it’s always seemed to me that there are similar arguments for fiercely protecting Second Amendment rights as there are for decriminalizing drugs, not just for medical marijuana but for recreational as well. And I have to say that my reservations are greater with regard to recreational marijuana, but the very simple point of my column was how grateful we were that the people of Colorado passed Amendment 64 because it provided an opportunity for us to circumvent the bureaucracy because we could just drop by and walk in. I’m absolutely against repealing it.”

On finding capitalism alive and well in the legal pot industry: “We were so sheepish at the pot shop. I’m sure we looked so goofy saying, ‘Are there brownies?’ And she whipped out the cheddar crackers.  And for me, as someone who believes in capitalism, I was just amazed at how many different companies are involved in producing these different products.  From the bakery to those (vape) pen things, some of it was a bit cliché — they had the Tommy Chong banner up top, the big ’70s heavy metal pounding when you went into the recreational side, but it also struck me how we felt safe. There were multiple ID checks and serious guards at the door — and contrast that with god knows what we would have had to do if we tried obtaining it on the streets.”...

On being pro-marijuana, cautiously: “While some people on the pro side who don’t ever want you to acknowledge that there are costs and consequences and abuses, I don’t have any problem with saying, ‘Of course we should be worried about what else can happen here.’ Of course I tell my kids, ‘Don’t you mess with this,’ as I would with any illicit, addictive substance. It’s not a weakness that there are always those concerns, and that’s why I stress the need for the cultural guardrails.  It bothers me to see Snoop Doggy Dogg and this big haze around all these kids — just how irresponsible that is.  And to the extent that the movement has grown up, it’s a tribute to people like Ralph Seeley, for whom it was a matter of individual liberty and principal all along. There will always be people on either side who exploit the extremes.

Just a few recent and older related posts:

May 21, 2014 at 12:10 PM | Permalink


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Yes, the war on drugs has been a massive failure--I say this as some who still thinks marijuana should be outlawed. The reason it was a massive failure is because it was never intended to succeed. The war on drugs was nothing more than a patina to fund certain interests both domestically and internationally--their actual success or failure in eliminating drugs was not relevant. They needed to do enough to justify the funding and that was all most people cared about.

I am ambivalent about drug legalization because on one hand I think that drug abuse has shown itself to be a pervasive corruptive force on society. On the other hand, history has shown the pursuit of drugs has birthed a monster as bad as as the one it seeks to destroy. So in the long-term its likely to be a wash. Some abuses will decrease and others will increase. Name your poison.

Posted by: Daniel | May 21, 2014 12:26:19 PM

limited-government conservative?

Conservatives are not libertarians. I'm all for finding friends wherever -- conservatives are starting to get on the same sex marriage bus too -- but come on. This is the woman who wrote a book defending Japanese Internment.

Limited government? Ha! Conservatives want different sorts of government than liberals, but are not "limited government." That is such a spin-job by them.

Posted by: Joe | May 21, 2014 1:38:04 PM

I'm with you Joe...

Posted by: Randy | May 21, 2014 2:13:30 PM

I really think that it's risky to brand people with a political ideology and assume motivation and extrapolate about what they may think about any social issue. Don't even mention or consider that people change attitudes based on new information - they do.

Some have become almost tribal in their demagoguery, but they may have outlier ideas you'd never believe. I've been thinking about this ever since I read the article about Jim Webb saying that he might consider running for President.

He's been many places on the political spectrum and is as close to a renaissance man as we're likely to see run for office. I would never have believed that President Obama would govern as he has. I guess Michelle Malkin is capable of two dimensions.

Posted by: beth | May 21, 2014 9:47:56 PM

What if cost wasn't as big as an issue, I am not for the "war on drugs" but do want to make a point, why do we have controlled substances? If we legalize marijuana recreation ally, should we de-list all the schedule drugs to prescription only or rather otc?

Of course the argument for prescriptions is a economical and resource one, since unregulated usage could have economic consequences like unlicensed doctors and plumbers, companies spend money making it and misuse would cost companies and consumers money and health costs, like unlicensed drivers, but then we have controlled substances, aside for schedule I which are banned, I would like to some arguments, schedule 2 drugs are not too dissimilar to schedule I drugs.

Michelle Malkin is a hypocrite, its not a personal attack but rather it seems she gets attention, did the US round up Germans during world war I and II, no.

Posted by: Alex | May 22, 2014 4:21:21 AM

Alex, Those are all thought provoking questions. If we think the war on drugs has been a failed social experiment - and I do - there must be a better way.

It seems to me that addiction is a medical problem and probably should be dealt with through the medical system and not involve Law Enforcement in any way. If addicted individuals commit crimes that is the proper function for law enforcement. We are involving law enforcement in every aspect of our lives.

The recent articles about tech companies not drug testing for marijuana makes the point. They have found that a large percentage of techies use the substance. If Bill Gates and Steve Jobs used the substance as they worked in their garage, we are definitely on the wrong track sending swat teams.

We have gone crazy identifying common substances that may be abused and schedueling them. I can't send someone under the age of 18 in the store to buy spray paint. I know we need lisencing, but should you need a state lisence to braid hair, or to give a new mother tips on breast feeding.

I've had queezy moments listening to Michelle M. on many occasions, but I know that many conservatives have strong sound arguments about government control and civil liberties. The argument is that conservatives are only interested in the money and smaller government part of ending the drug war - I'm sure that's central for many, but there are some strong civil liberties advocates there.

Posted by: beth | May 22, 2014 12:08:29 PM

I'm unsure what is surprising about Obama per se (felt somewhat similar about Bush -- Molly Ivins, e.g., flagged the sort of person he was -- however one feels about that -- and the "shock" of some later on was largely a matter of misguided assumptions) but don't disagree as a whole about beth's comment about not assuming.

To reference my own comment, it wasn't about her personally really, but a general label. Conservatives frame themselves as small government types. They aren't. Conservatives support various types of government. They aren't libertarians. Our on hiatus friend Bill Otis said this himself in answer to a critic here on his position on drug criminalization.

As to how she changed, I really don't know the woman.

Posted by: Joe | May 24, 2014 12:01:51 PM

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