Why the right shouldn’t fear cannabis

Cannabis has been legalized in Washington state and Colorado, causing apprehension among some on the right. Last August, Newt Gingrich said that general legalization would be a “huge mistake.” Chris Christie has long shown his disdain for medical marijuana, saying of a proposed law in its favor, “Here’s what the advocates want: They want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances.”

Emily Miller at the Washington Times wrote recently that activists are “totally uneducated’ about the “severe consequences” of smoking cannabis, writing that it is “simply a toxin” which is “more similar to heroin and cocaine than alcohol in how it affects the body.”

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum has been sounding the alarm about marijuana use for years. In a September column at CNN, he implied that cannabis is harmful, but he didn’t say why.

On the other side of the issue, a number of Republicans have stepped forward in favor of legalizing marijuana. Rush Limbaugh admits that he used cannabis during his recovery from opiate addiction and says that the legalization of marijuana is “a great issue” for the GOP. Pat Robertson is famously in favor of legalization, saying “this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

In California, a majority now supports legalization, and a new law in favor of legalization is being floated. Now that support for legalization is rising nationwide, the right needs to ask itself: are we in support of legalization, or not?

The critics of marijuana legalization have trouble getting their arguments straight, and oppose it based on a visceral cultural revulsion, rather than science or reason. There is no scientific evidence that marijuana is “similar to heroin and cocaine.” If anything, it is more similar to caffeine — the effects rarely last longer than 2-3 hours, and are extremely mild. The majority of users use it only occasionally, and daily addicts — if true addiction is even possible, which seems doubtful due to the way that marijuana works in the brain — will be able to get it on the black market anyway.

Alcohol causes 75,000 deaths per year, cannabis causes zero.

Consider that cannabis is readily available everywhere, whether it is legal or not. Also, consider that proposals for cannabis legalization are on a state-by-state basis, so the legalization of cannabis in Colorado does not impact its legality in Idaho or Utah. So, any potential damage from the legalization of cannabis is restricted to the states in which it is legalized.

Traditional conservative values discourage the government from involvement in individual affairs and victimless crimes. The illegality of cannabis gives police an excuse to search vehicles, raid homes, and throw people in jail. Overall, cannabis laws facilitate greater government intervention into our private lives, whether we use it or not. People are shot and killed during marijuana raids that turn up nothing. In 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, Marine veteran and father of a 4-year-old Jose Guerena was shot and killed in a no-knock raid that led to a $3.4 million settlement without admission of wrongdoing.

Opposition to cannabis legalization is primarily driven by righteous indignation rather than assessment of objective harm. “If I don’t like it, and don’t use it, no one should.” Isn’t codifying personal indignation as ironclad law a failing of the nanny-state left? Do we need more excuses to extend the reach of the federal government and the police state?