I 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 When they repealed prohibition that was kind of the deal – alcohol gets taxed – and in reality, if legalization is going to happen, it will happen the same way.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.