Monday, February 10, 2014

A Take on Drugs and Laws

Libertarian Victory in Colorado was supported by, Yes, Libertarians

Colorado is currently the venue for one of the biggest and most exciting experiments in libertarianism that the United States has seen for some time. The Centennial State’s decision to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational – rather than the much more common medical use – is being watched with interest across the country and around the world. It’s a decision that libertarians can raise a glass or light a legalized joint to celebrate. Research suggests that this is partly because Colorado is a libertarian-friendly state. The decision was made on a popular vote and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rockies are full of tie-dye wearing hippies. Of those who voted yes to legalization, 117,000 had voted against Obama in the last presidential election. In fact, where Ron Paul had done well in 2012 primaries for the Republican Party, the pot proposition prospered too. (Though it should be noted that as a whole Democrats were still more likely to be in favor of legalization than Republicans.)

A Libertarian Trend

Pat Buchanan was convinced enough of a major shift in opinion that he told John McLaughlin that he saw the vote as an indicator of a “deeply libertarian trend” on both the left and the right in America. The great Conservative figure also agreed that the state’s experiment could lead to an end of the idea of illegal weed across the States. It’s something he decries, believing more road accidents and high school drop outs will be two of the results. Time will tell.

Classic Libertarian Stance

The legalization of most if not all drugs would almost certainly be the classically libertarian position: it’s your body, put what you want in it and pay the consequences should things go wrong.
This makes the current legalization a somewhat double-edged sword. The idea of legal pot comes with a whole host of big government concepts attached to it – by legalizing we can regulate, by legalizing we can tax, all Colorado sellers are licensed by state authorities. Colorado is already planning to spend the likely $67 million tax windfall from the move.
Perhaps though we should look at the more positive side of that financial picture, with predicted savings of up to $60 million in enforcing drug laws against offenders who are, for the most part, unlikely to cause much in the way of a public danger. A well-regulated free market in marijuana will likely make everyone safer.

An Experiment in an Unwinnable War

The War on Drugs has been raging since President Nixon made his declaration of hostilities in 1971. It’s cost around $2.5 trillion in tax money and is one of the chief drivers of America’s world-beating prison population. Violent crime keeps going down but more and more people end up in prison, largely for trading a commodity for which there is a self-evident demand and an ever-present supply, but because of its illegality is surrounded by violent turf wars and ripped off customers with no recourse but a gun-enforced refund. The lessons of alcohol prohibition – then a vastly empowered Mafia, now an infrastructure of cartels, terrorists and the Taliban all profiting – seem to only be learned in relation to our favorite legal drug. Despite it all – all the DEA officers, all the helicopters, all the raids, all the foreign support and coca farms attacked – drug use has continued to rise. It’s becoming more common to hear the attack on this futile war come from those who have fought in the front lines. However, it should be acknowledged that what Colorado is engaged in is an experiment, (though let’s remember this would be re-legalization) just as Uruguay’s similar recent decision is. While many Coloradans lit up and celebrated, rehab experts prepared for an increase in business too. While many consider pot harmless, the psychiatrist running the local rehab center for teens (only those aged over-21 can buy legally) warned that 95% of his referrals already came from youngsters in trouble with a “soft” drug. He has doubled his staff. Illegal drug use already causes terrible trouble for some, while a hard core libertarian might argue for individuals to pay the price of the consequences of their actions, perhaps some of those extra tax dollars should go on better drug education and publicly-funded rehab for those who do fall prey to addiction or mental illness. This is a new front in the war on drug harm and it's one that will be decided state by state. Will Colorado need to cater to more victims of abuse than a state with a limited (and some say too limited) medical usage like New Jersey? Will the scale of New Jersey treatment options for addiction or adverse effects suffice in a Colorado with almost all brakes removed?

A State against a Nation a Nation against the World

 While Colorado might have lit a libertarian light and other states may follow (Miami may be the next state to join the 19 states and districts to allow medicinal marijuana), the national government doesn’t seem to be interested in changing its view and federal law still says weed is illegal. Uruguay’s legislation has been greeted by statements reminding the country they are breaking international treaty obligations. However, the suits in Washington may be behind the game. New polling from CNN found that 55% of Americans would like to see marijuana legalized with notable exceptions in southern states and among older voters. That’s the same score that got Colorado’s weed proposition posted, so perhaps the state is not such an outlier after all. The world is watching, if Colorado – as Amsterdam has to a certain extent – is damaged by weed tourism it will look bad, if business goes on as usual, politicians will take note.

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