The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend: Liberals, Libertarians, & Marijuana Legalization

sddefaultI strongly believe that marijuana legalization is an issue that “liberals” and “libertarians” can and should be working on together – pushing the federal government and the state governments to legalize. The problem is, while many people in both groups favor legalization to some degree, many people in both groups are also unable to press pause on their disagreements about economics for long enough to get anything done, or are unable to come to a consensus on whether marijuana should be legal or merely decriminalized.

On the first point:

Liberals, while you may vehemently disagree with libertarians on everything regarding economics, there is no rule that says you cannot work with a group of people on an issue you agree on just because your views on another issue are diametrically opposed.

Libertarians, we (liberals) are not likely to come around to your “Randian” point of view anytime soon, but we might be willing to work with you on an issue we clearly agree on if you would stop giving us a John Galt lecture every 15 minutes.

On the second point:

While many libertarians generally favor decriminalization over legalization – because they believe legalization allows for laws to be created that will take away more civil liberties – the problem with decriminalization is that marijuana is already decriminalized in many states yet its decriminalization hasn’t stopped arrests. For example, in 2012 under Mayor Bloomberg (who is thankfully no longer the mayor) there were 50,000 arrests in New York City for minor possession at a cost of over 50 million tax dollars. In order for these two groups to come together, libertarians need to come up to speed with what liberals seem to already know – decriminalization isn’t working.

Furthermore, libertarians need to realize that it is completely unrealistic to think that the federal government and the state governments are going to allow marijuana to be bought and sold with no oversight whatsoever and without collecting their cut. In Colorado for example, tax revenues from marijuana sales are specifically allotted to pay for education, and I think that’s a good idea. When they repealed prohibition that was kind of the deal – alcohol gets taxed – and in reality, if legalization is going to happen, it will happen the same way. Now, one could argue that the government hardly ever uses tax money for its intended and stated purpose, but the fact remains that until we see some data out of Colorado and Washington about where the tax dollars are actually going, we all have to reserve judgement. 

Additionally, the fact that the FBI and DEA are still making many (albeit less than in the past) marijuana arrests, is the very reason why so many liberals and libertarians are furious with President Obama, and it’s just one more reason why the two groups should be working together. Yes, recently the President has been saying the right things in regards to marijuana and we’ve had some success on the issue of sentencing with the Holder memos that followed the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, but ultimately the task falls to Congress. The President can say what he wants, and he can influence enforcement of the law and pardon people. But, only Congress can pass legislation to de-schedule, and if they can’t even pass the Smarter Sentencing Act (which has support on both sides of the aisle), I really don’t see that happening. More pressure needs to be put on Congress to act and there is strength in numbers.

In closing, while liberals and libertarians may even disagree on how to handle the specifics of marijuana legalization, for now they should focus on working together to get the federal government to de-schedule the drug and take all federal marijuana laws off the books. This would allow states to move forward as they see fit (a concept libertarians love – 10th Amendment anyone?), would increase revenues, and would decrease the amount of money spent on law enforcement and incarceration. This narrow issue is one that liberals and libertarians can and should be working together on, but, as I’ve already said, until both groups can press pause on their economic and other disagreements for long enough to get it done, it won’t happen nearly as fast as we’d all like it to.

Ilyssa Fuchs

Ilyssa Fuchs is an attorney, freelance writer, and activist from New York City, who holds both a juris doctor and a political science degree. She is the founder of the popular Facebook page Politically Preposterous and a blog of the same name. Follow Ilyssa on Twitter @IlyssaFuchs, and be sure to check out her archives on Forward Progressives as well!


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  • Pipercat

    I’m not sure which Libertarians favor decriminalization over legalization, but if they do, I suppose you’d have to call them LINOs…

    • strayaway

      I’ve never hear of libertarians favoring decriminalization over legalization but assume most would favor decriminalization over keeping marijuana illegal.

      The federal government would continue to have interests in imported marijuana and interstate movements of marijuana. The feds should keep their nose out of pot raised and consumed in the same state though.

      • Pipercat

        Indeed, as a first step. I must confess, I’ve never heard this notion of decriminalization instead of legalization directly from a Libertarian. Prohibitions run counter to Libertarian thinking.

      • Sandy Greer

        Libertarians helped put it on the California ballot in 1972 – a small step for mankind. 😉

        ^^^You can’t always get what you want – all at once. Baby steps, until we stop being afraid.

      • Pipercat


      • Sandy Greer

        Nice avatar. 😉

      • Ilyssa

        This is a quote directly from one of my libertarian friends (and why I discussed this point in the article): “Medical, Legalize, or Decriminalize?
        A large percentage of people who endorse changing Marijuana laws promote legalizing and taxing it.

        But by legalizing it, we allow legislators to enter our personal decision making.

        Would you be willing to pay a permit fee to grow your own at home, on the condition the state can inspect your home when they deem fit?

        What about DUI or DWI’s? Are you willing to allow your blood or saliva to be taken? What if you smoked a week ago, and the remnants were still in your system?

        And employers: i.e. cab companies, bus drivers, doctors, etc…

        I firmly believe in medical marijuana and the decriminalization of it. I seriously question legalization because of unintended consequences.”

      • strayaway

        I would be glad to just move in the right direction; to make medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and industrial hemp more legal than they are now. It’s legal to make small batches of brew in one’s home for personal use. Why not allow people to grow pot for their own use? Beyond that, a simple way of legalizing marijuana would be to mimic alcohol laws with a similar State tax structure and similar ways of detecting if a driver is impaired. I sure don’t want people driving when totally high. Employers could maintain their own standards as they currently do regarding employee dress codes and coming to work impaired. Those remain conditions of employment. From what I know about marijuana, someone smoking on Saturday night should be recovered by Monday morning even if it shows up in his/her hair follicles a month later. But wouldn’t it be nice to clear all the people out of prisons who are there for possessing or selling a small amount of pot?

        I don’t question that your friend’s position is different. everyone falls somewhere along the libertarian-authoritarian line on every issues and pure libertarians are anarchists. I’m apparently just a bit more authoritarian on this issue than your friend.

      • Sandy Greer

        >someone smoking on Saturday night should be recovered by Monday morning

        It’s surprising how many people smoke every day, and still manage to hold down full time jobs/careers.

        Agree WRT our prisons. Especially since we have ample evidence drug laws are selectively enforced, arbitrarily, depending on the races of the perps.

      • strayaway

        Sometimes the race thing has more to do with economics. Blacks are, on average, poorer and can’t afford such good lawyers. Rand Paul, of all people, has been making an issue of the racial disparity of drug convictions as a reason to ease up on marijuana prosecution. He also talked Mitch McConnell into advocating the growing of industrial hemp.

        I had a long ago friend in California (white) who was arrested when really stoned and imprisoned with some sort of indeterminate sentence which meant that they would let him out when he showed social improvement. The social worker kept him in a long time because he preferred making balsa airplanes, reading, and meditating. His social worker told him that had he instead played softball, he would have been let out earlier but his activities were deemed anti-social. Such a waste when multiplied by tens of thousands of such prisoners just keeping the prison industry humming. I wonder who they will go after to fill prisons when all the small time marijuana users and sellers are let out?

      • Sandy Greer

        Rand Paul is right, about the racial disparity in drug convictions. It’s almost a given the minority will do time, all else being equal. He’s also right about hemp, and its uses.

        So I learned something new about Rand Paul today; thanks!

        My personal feeling is more should smoke. This nation could use some ‘mellowing out’, LOL

        Interesting about your friend. The quiet guy, reading and meditating, is the anti-social. While the competitive guy…I suppose it was the ‘team player’ aspect? But entirely subjective, no?

        We’re in agreement on the ‘wasted potential’ imprisoned. I understand private prisons have a lot to lose, should we legalize pot, and other drugs.

      • strayaway

        More on my friend in prison; off topic but funny. With a lot of time to kill in a minimum security prison, he was allowed to build a plane about 3′ across out of balsam struts that he carved out. It took months for him to cut out all the little pieces, glue them together, and stretch paper over the wings. A gas motor and a remote control device were included. Finally, the day came when he flew his plane for the first time. He allowed it to get too far from his control so it just flew away out of sight. He said he was so depressed after all those months of work and to just have flown it once. Three days later he was called into an office. Someone was sitting on their back porch when his plane just glided down onto his backyard. The guy sitting there figured out where the plane came from and returned it. A couple of flights later, my friend lost his plane when it nose dived. It was, I suppose, like the movie in which the castaway loses Wilson.

  • Sandy Greer

    Sometimes, when we stop treating our ‘enemies’ as enemies, and treat them as friends…We discover we have more in common than we thought.

  • Matthew Reece

    “Furthermore, libertarians need to realize that it is completely unrealistic to think that the federal government and the state governments are going to allow marijuana to be bought and sold with no oversight whatsoever and without collecting their cut.”

    This assumes that the governments are going to be in a position to “allow” anything. The best answer is not to change the position of the state, but to make the state irrelevant. This is what currencies like Bitcoin, networks like Tor, and sites like Silk Road have the power to do. (Note that Silk Road was not busted by overcoming the anonymity features of Tor or Bitcoin, but because Ross Ulbricht was careless about keeping himself anonymous and his communications encrypted.)

    • Pipercat

      Ross also kinda let his ego get the better of him.

  • terry63

    My question is this. How is it that Good Liberals, Conservatives and Progressives hate tobacco, will not tolerate it. Treat smokers as criminals. Tax their product to soaring hights. Yet embrace Marijuana. Another product that smells bad. Is usually rolled up in rice paper and smoked with out a filter, sending hot particles into the lungs. Altering ones Level of Consciousness and absolutley causing ill effects on those who smoke it. Seems a bit Hypocritical to me. I dont smoke. I lost both my Grand dads to lung cancer.Im not an advocate of tobacco, but this is just silly. Dont try to tell me that Marajuana smoke is harmless. I have worked in the Health care system for 17 years. The worst thing that I have seen latley is K2. Its effect on todays kids is staggering.

    • Will

      so put people in jail for it? why not everything unhealthy? Why does a health problem need to be made into a criminal one? Especially when a criminal record just follows you around, makes it hard to get a job and usually just exacerbates the situations that make many people turn to drugs in the first place?