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August 12, 2010

Making the conservative case for ending pot prohibition in California

A helpful reader forwarded to me this recent local commentary from California, which is headlined "Right should back pot measure."  Here are parts of the arguments made by the authors:

California conservatives in November should support Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that would remove criminal penalties for the possession, cultivation, and private use of marijuana by adults. And this support should be based on core conservative principles such as free markets, limited government and the rule of law.

The economic argument for legalization ought to be persuasive for most clear-thinking conservatives. Simply put, the current prohibition of cannabis has produced few if any social benefits while the costs of prohibition have been outrageously expensive....

[T]he proposed "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act" seeks to bring a long-overdue rationality to the marijuana market by allowing local governments to impose sensible regulations. It would, for example, establish age restrictions on consumption (21 years) and also provide a general overall framework for the drug's production, quality control, and distribution.  The proposal would also impose restrictions on where and when cannabis could be legally consumed.  This framework for an orderly and safe cannabis marketplace could actually be expected to mitigate much of the social cost associated with the ineffectual prohibition regime.

Finally, conservatives should not accept the argument that a product must remain illegal simply because it might possibly be abused.  This argument is specious at best (it would prohibit swimming pools and skiing) and leads directly to the all-intrusive Nanny State, where federal bureaucrats ultimately decide which products (or medications) are good for the individual, even when their behavior is absent harms to others.  Instead, conservatives should always support individual and family responsibility in product (and health care) choice and demand full accountability for those choices.

Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr.  staunch conservatives with impeccable credentials  both strongly supported an end to the war on marijuana. The initiative in November is a sensible, common-sense step in the right direction.

Some related posts on pot policy and politics:

August 12, 2010 at 11:13 AM | Permalink


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Being in favor of ending pot prohibition does not necessarily mean one should vote for this proposition. Pushing the taxation and regulation decisions down to the local level is particularly problematic in California. Our state government is no great shakes, to be sure, but some of the local governments are run by complete loons.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 12, 2010 1:02:48 PM

Yes, but the wisdom of a good libertarian idea should not turn on one’s personal opinion of current officeholders.

I think some Members of Congress are complete loons, but I don’t advocate removing Congress’ authority to do the things it does (or, more often, fails to do). I do advocate electing better representatives.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Aug 12, 2010 2:37:57 PM

An idea is not good if it vests authority where it does not need to be and where experience has shown us it is not likely to be exercised well.

There is no good reason for not setting the tax rates and placing the regulatory authority at the state level.

Placing it at the local level, one locality in a region can effectively make marijuana a low-tax product and eliminate the revenue for neighboring cities that proponents are making one of their main arguments for this proposition.

That is, of course, the result desired by people who think marijuana is an affirmative good to be promoted. People inclined to believe that marijuana is not good and should be discouraged through high taxation rather than prohibition (like tobacco) should not vote for this proposition.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 12, 2010 4:30:15 PM

It is time to stop giving people criminal records for possessing small amounts of marijuana.I hope California passes prop 19.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 12, 2010 9:28:13 PM


Prop 19 reminds me a lot of the casino gambling issue in Ohio. The Ohio legislature consistently refused to even consider building casinos in Ohio, even though a majority of Ohioans supported it. Eventually, Ohio voted for a ballot measure allowing four casinos in Ohio. The ballot measure was flawed--but Ohioans simply got sick of the state legislature repeatedly ignoring their desires, and wanted to send a message. The fact that the casinos would bring jobs (and tax revenue) to Ohio helped a lot, too.

Prop 19 does have some serious issues with it. But then I wonder--maybe the California state legislature made such imperfection inevitable by steadfastly refusing to consider marijuana legalization despite popular appeal.

Admittedly I'm saying this as a non-resident of California, so please correct me if what I'm suggesting cannot be factually correct.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Aug 13, 2010 9:09:38 AM

Res ipsa,

It is not correct to say that the California Legislature has not considered marijuana legalization. No bill has yet passed, but legislation has been under active consideration. I wouldn't be surprised to see it pass in the next few years if this initiative does not.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 13, 2010 11:13:46 AM


I was unaware of that--thank you for the info. I'll have to look up those initiatives.

I imagine, though, that the dire economy in California and the prospect of high tax revenues from marijuana are at least part of the driving force in support of Prop 19?

Posted by: Res ipsa | Aug 13, 2010 12:50:35 PM

prop 19 would help the economy in Calif. if legal more room in prison for dangerous criminals if you drink its only illegal if you drive that is when police step in we already have a lot of no smoking areas those same places you would not smoke pot have this situation controlled and you wont have children selling it for the thugs because it is legal like beer no real market when controlled the right way

Posted by: anno. | Aug 17, 2010 11:55:50 AM

Not a question of if. The question now is when. @ anon - it is not the people who want it, it is the state who wants it. A broke CA needs weed. It keeps the hoi polloi distracted and high, boosts tourism and helps stop the hemorrhaging coffers. California will go green eventually. 2011 may be the year.


Posted by: VA loan | Nov 30, 2010 1:16:45 PM

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