Obama And Philosophical Differences Between Left And Right

If viewed from the perspective of perfection, liberals have plenty of reason to object to Obama. There’s his continuation of NSA surveillance, with recommendations for reform which are a good first step but do not go far enough. He continues the disastrous drug war (or should we call it the war against minorities) and is taking far too long to end the war in Afghanistan. He did a fine job of averting the Bush depression upon taking office but his stimulus program was too little (although we must also consider the Republican opposition to this and the manner in which they blocked his other proposals). While the Affordable Care Act has had some major successes, the difficulties in implementation show the advantages of a single-payer plan favored by many on the left. Still, when looking from the perspective of a two-party system, Obama’s accomplishments on economic recovery and health care reform are significant, and there is not a single problem which would not be worse if current Republican policies were being followed. More importantly, there a major difference in world view which can be seen in two recent comments from Obama.

Today there was this statement released on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.  We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom.  And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children.  Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

This shows a fundamental difference between Obama, and most Democrats, compared to the majority of Republicans. Republicans have no respect for reproductive freedom, and the right of women to control their own bodies. If you ignore the biology, along with philosophical problems in denying self-ownership of one’s own body, their case against abortion might be somewhat understandable. As it is frequently accompanied by opposition to birth control, it becomes clearer that this is primarily a religious viewpoint which they wish to impose upon others. On a related point, they also desire to impose their religious views to prevent same-sex marriage, an issue which Obama has evolved on. (Plus many Republicans do not even accept basic science with regards to evolution).

Obama showed his views are also evolving on marijuana and the drug war. In an interview with David Remnick in The New Yorker, Obama showed consideration of the underlying issues:

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion—the legalization of marijuana—he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked…

Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.” What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. “Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.” He noted the slippery-slope arguments that might arise. “I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that? If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”

Far short of ending the drug war, but this leaves open hope of a change in policy. It makes no medical sense for marijuana to be classified as a Schedule I drug, and prohibition causes far more harm than the drug. It is hard to see any leading Republicans, other than perhaps Rand Paul (who does fall short of the libertarian position), considering a change on this issue.

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Majority Support Legalization of Marijuana For The First Time In Gallup Poll

For the first time ever, a clear majority supports legalization of marijuana in a Gallup poll. Currently 58 percent favor legalization and 39 percent are opposed. Not surprisingly, the two groups which most strongly oppose legalization are those over 65 years of age and the Republicans. Once again, the Republicans, despite their rhetoric, remain the party of using big government to intrude upon the private lives of individuals. The polls shows that 65 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents, and only 35 percent of Republicans support legalization.

As Gallup pointed out, this parallels the recent increase in support for legalization of gay marriage.

Gallup concluded:

It has been a long path toward majority acceptance of marijuana over the past 44 years, but Americans’ support for legalization accelerated as the new millennium began. This acceptance of a substance that most people might have considered forbidden in the late 1960s and 1970s may be attributed to changing social mores and growing social acceptance. The increasing prevalence of medical marijuana as a socially acceptable way to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as arthritis, and as a way to mitigate side effects of chemotherapy, may have also contributed to Americans’ growing support.

Whatever the reasons for Americans’ greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide. But detractors such as law enforcement and substance abuse professionals have cited health risks including an increased heart rate, and respiratory and memory problems.

With Americans’ support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future.

 

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Our New Republican Allies

There was a time before the American conservative movement moved to the extreme right, with denial of any facts which contradicted their extreme views, when some conservatives could be on the right side of some issues. In recent year it has become rare for Republicans to take a position which is grounded in reality or ethically justifiable. Despite their rhetoric, Republicans have run up huge deficits and acted to prevent economic recovery for political gain while pushing for an increased role of government in the private lives of individuals. On foreign policy we saw Republicans push for war with Iraq based upon arguments which can only come from extreme incompetence or blatant dishonesty.

As the Republicans moved to the extreme right there was no choice but to vote Democratic, even if not always agreeing with the Democratic candidates, as even when Democrats compromised principles and moved to the center Republicans offered an even worse alternative. Suddenly the Republicans have become useful in providing votes against war with Syria but I do wish they were taking this position out of higher principles than opposing it because Obama is for it.

While there are exceptions, for the most part the right wing blogosphere remains a cesspool of Obama-hatred, opposing intervention in Syria only because of Obama’s support, and spewing ridiculous claims against Obama even if they are on the right side in this vote. The most absurd arguments from the right include blaming the United States for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. More from Steve M. on this right-wing conspiracy theory.

Beyond various foreign policy disagreements, the biggest disappointments from the Obama administration have been on drug policy. I expected Republicans to be at least as bad, and most likely worse, but maybe not. There was a surprise comment from John McCain at a town hall in Tuscon. While he took the expected ultra-hawkish view on Syria, he also suggested that maybe marijuana should be legalized: “Maybe we should legalize. We’re certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people.”

Of course there is a huge difference between a comment thrown out such as this and actually taking action, but it is a sign of how attitudes towards prohibition are changing that McCain would feel comfortable raising this idea before his constituents.

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DEA Using Vast Phone Records In Drug War

We now have information that the  NSA may not have been the government agency which has snooped the most on Americans. The New York Times has revealed information on a previously secret operation by the DEA which began under George Bush and continued during the Obama administration:

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.

The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.

The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant look to date at the use of such large-scale data for law enforcement, rather than for national security.

The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.

Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.

The slides were given to The New York Times by Drew Hendricks, a peace activist in Port Hadlock, Wash. He said he had received the PowerPoint presentation, which is unclassified but marked “Law enforcement sensitive,” in response to a series of public information requests to West Coast police agencies.

The program was started in 2007, according to the slides, and has been carried out in great secrecy.

“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.

The ACLU has reasonable speculation as to why this program was kept so secret: “I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts.”

Yes, very hard to justify. Any potential benefits here are far less significant than NSA surveillance which at least (other than for some reported cases of misuse) is directed at al Qaeda, which is far more significant than the targets of DEA investigations. If anything, the DEA’s perceived need to violate the rights of Americans in this manner is just one more reason why the drug war must be ended.

The Obama administration finds this helpful, apparently without consideration of the civil liberties concerns:

The Obama administration acknowledged the extraordinary scale of the Hemisphere database and the unusual embedding of AT&T employees in government drug units in three states.

But they said the project, which has proved especially useful in finding criminals who discard cellphones frequently to thwart government tracking, employed routine investigative procedures used in criminal cases for decades and posed no novel privacy issues.

Crucially, they said, the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government as in the N.S.A. program. It is queried for phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A.

Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.”

James Joyner has posted more on this use of “administrative subpoenas” with references including this post at Wired from just over a year ago:

Meet the administrative subpoena (.pdf): With a federal official’s signature, banks, hospitals, bookstores, telecommunications companies and even utilities and internet service providers — virtually all businesses — are required to hand over sensitive data on individuals or corporations, as long as a government agent declares the information is relevant to an investigation. Via a wide range of laws, Congress has authorized the government to bypass the Fourth Amendment — the constitutional guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that requires a probable-cause warrant signed by a judge.

In fact, there are roughly 335 federal statutes on the books (.pdf) passed by Congress giving dozens upon dozens of federal agencies the power of the administrative subpoena, according to interviews and government reports. (.pdf)

“I think this is out of control. What has happened is, unfortunately, these statutes have been on the books for many, many years and the courts have acquiesced,” said Joe Evans, the utility’s attorney.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that federal officials from a broad spectrum of government agencies issue them hundreds of thousands of times annually. But none of the agencies are required to disclose fully how often they utilize them — meaning there is little, if any, oversight of this tactic that’s increasingly used in the war on drugs, the war on terror and, seemingly, the war on Americans’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable government trespass into their lives.

That’s despite proof that FBI agents given such powers under the Patriot Act quickly began to abuse them and illegally collected Americans’ communications records, including those of reporters. Two scathing reports from the Justice Department’s Inspector General uncovered routine and pervasive illegal use of administrative subpoenas by FBI anti-terrorism agents given nearly carte blanche authority to demand records about Americans’ communications with no supervision.

There are known risks to privacy rights going beyond what Edward Snowden released regarding the NSA. This information came out in response to public information requests. How much information about other abuses is out there which nobody knew enough to request, and how much is kept secret and unavailable under such requests?

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Positive News In The Culture War on Equal Rights For Gay Couples and Marijuana Laws

There was some good news today which should upset quite a few social conservatives.

The Department of Treasury announced today that same-sex marriages will be treated as any other marriages nation-wide in response to the Supreme Court invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The Department of Health and Human Services also revised rules in response to the Supreme Court decision:

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a memo clarifying that all beneficiaries in private Medicare plans have access to equal coverage when it comes to care in a nursing home where their spouse lives.  This is the first guidance issued by HHS in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling, which held section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

“HHS is working swiftly to implement the Supreme Court’s decision and maximize federal recognition of same-sex spouses in HHS programs,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “Today’s announcement is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law.”

“Today, Medicare is ensuring that all beneficiaries will have equal access to coverage in a nursing home where their spouse lives, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.  “Prior to this, a beneficiary in a same-sex marriage enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan did not have equal access to such coverage and, as a result, could have faced time away from his or her spouse or higher costs because of the way that marriage was defined for this purpose.”

Under current law, Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan are entitled to care in, among certain other skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), the SNF where their spouse resides (assuming that they have met the conditions for SNF coverage in the first place, and the SNF has agreed to the payment amounts and other terms that apply to a plan network SNF).  Seniors with Medicare Advantage previously may have faced the choice of receiving coverage in a nursing home away from their same-sex spouse, or dis-enrolling from the Medicare Advantage plan which would have meant paying more out-of-pocket for care in the same nursing home as their same-sex spouse.

Today’s guidance clarifies that this guarantee of coverage applies equally to all married couples.  The guidance specifically clarifies that this guarantee of coverage applies equally to couples who are in a legally recognized same-sex marriage, regardless of where they live.

The Department of Justice announced it will not challenge state marijuana laws legalizing marijuana:

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an update to its federal marijuana enforcement policy in light of recent state ballot initiatives that legalize, under state law, the possession of small amounts of marijuana and provide for the regulation of marijuana production, processing, and sale.

In a new memorandum outlining the policy, the Department makes clear that marijuana remains an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act and that federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute. To this end, the Department identifies eight (8) enforcement areas that federal prosecutors should prioritize.  These are the same enforcement priorities that have traditionally driven the Department’s efforts in this area.

Outside of these enforcement priorities, however, the federal government has traditionally relied on state and local authorizes to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws. This guidance continues that policy.

For states such as Colorado and Washington that have enacted laws to authorize the production, distribution and possession of marijuana, the Department expects these states to establish strict regulatory schemes that protect the eight federal interests identified in the Department’s guidance. These schemes must be tough in practice, not just on paper, and include strong, state-based enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding. Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time.  But if any of the stated harms do materialize—either despite a strict regulatory scheme or because of the lack of one—federal prosecutors will act aggressively to bring individual prosecutions focused on federal enforcement priorities and the Department may challenge the regulatory scheme themselves in these states.

The ruling is mixed. Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority, sent out this response by email earlier today:

“It’s nice to hear that the Obama administration doesn’t at this point intend to file a lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters in states that have opted to modernize their marijuana policies, but it remains to be seen how individual U.S. attorneys will interpret the new guidance and whether they will continue their efforts to close down marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state law.

“It’s significant that U.S. attorneys will no longer be able to use the size or profitability of a legal marijuana business to determine whether or not it should be a target for prosecution, but the guidelines seem to leave some leeway for the feds to continue making it hard for state-legal marijuana providers to do business.

“The administration’s statement that it doesn’t think busting individual users should be a priority remains meaningless, as it has never been a federal focus to go after people just for using small amounts of marijuana. The real question is whether the president will call off his federal agencies that have been on the attack and finally let legal marijuana businesses operate without harassment, or if he wants the DEA and prosecutors to keep intervening as they have throughout his presidency and thus continue forcing users to buy marijuana on the illegal market where much of the profits go to violent drug cartels and gangs.

“In all, today’s announcement represents a step in a right direction and a recognition by the administration that the politics of marijuana are rapidly shifting in favor of those who support legalization. However, my optimism is tempered by the fact that despite the Justice Department’s 2009 announcement that it shouldn’t be a priority to bust medical marijuana providers operating in accordance with state law, this administration went on to close down more state-legal marijuana businesses in one term than the Bush administration did in two terms.

“Polls from Pew and Gallup show that a supermajority of Americans wants the president to follow through on his 2008 pledges to respect marijuana laws, and that’s what advocates will continue pressing him to do.”

Also today, a federal appeals Court upheld California’s ban on “conversion therapy” which attempts to turn gay individuals straight.

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Eric Holder Deescalates The Drug War

Changes in government policy often occur far too slowly. One of the reasons I supported Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was suggestions that he might be willing to pull back on the drug war, as well as ending the war in Iraq. The first term was very disappointing with regards to drug policy. Today we finally saw signs that, while far less than I would like to see, the Obama administration is moving in the right direction. From The New York Times:

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, announced the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder justified his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech said. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

This is a long way from what I would like to see, but much closer to what I thought might plausible occur under Obama. Hopefully this will be followed by an end to the raids of medical marijuana facilities, and ideally a move towards either decriminalization or legalization. There is hope that a coalition between Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans might also bring about long term legislative change, which is preferable over a decision from one administration to selectively avoid longer sentences. It is even the fiscally responsible thing to do.

We have seen how quickly the attitude towards restrictions on marriage equality is changing. Attitudes on drug laws might be the next to change.

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Nick Gillespie’s Five Myths About Libertarians

Nick Gillespie of Reason had an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday on Five Myths About Libertarians. Here’s my take on these alleged myths, which generally have some degree of truth but are not necessarily completely true:

1. Libertarians are a fringe band of “hippies of the right.”

The classic description that libertarians who have smoked marijuana is true (even if simplistic) about many but certainly not all. There are libertarians on the left and right, but this doesn’t have as much electoral significance as Gillespie suggests when writing:

Libertarians are found across the political spectrum and in both major parties. In September 2012, the Reason-Rupe Poll found that about one-quarter of Americans fall into the roughly libertarian category of wanting to reduce the government’s roles in economic and social affairs. That’s in the same ballpark as what other surveys have found and more than enough to swing an election.

Looking beyond the likelihood that a Reason poll might tilt the questions and definitions towards such a finding, there are vast differences between right-libertarians and left-libertarians. Sure, if there was a Democratic candidate who is terrible (as very many are) on civil liberties and social issues it is conceivable I might vote for a libertarian Republican for the Senate who might provide a strong voice for some issues I support. Of course this would not include someone like Rand Paul. Left-libertarians see the issues which impact individual liberty far differently from right-libertarians, many of whom don’t even support abortion rights. Left-libertarians disagree with right-libertarians as to the importance of some regulation of the economy, realizing that markets are human inventions which require regulation to function. Many of the left-libertarians who are not thrilled with ObamaCare prefer a single payer system which directly conflicts with the core values of right libertarians. There is simply a huge gap between different people who might be lumped together as libertarians in such a poll.

Left-libertarians and right-libertarians are unlikely to join together to swing an election, but there is hope that the two could exert pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to change some of their policies in areas where the two groups agree.

2. Libertarians don’t care about minorities or the poor.

Few outside the libertarian movement really buy their claims that libertarianism helps the poor. Democratic economic policies may not be libertarian (nor are they socialist) but the historical fact remains that the economy does better under Democrats. As opposed to the right wing view of trickle-down economics, a rising tide under Democrats is more likely to raise all ships. Where this doesn’t work, the social safety-net which libertarians oppose remains necessary. On the other hand I do agree with Gillespie to a degree that there are areas where it would be beneficial to reduce regulations on small business. That said, I run a small business and do manage to survive with all the regulations in place.

Gillespie is right about the drug war, which is largely a war on poor minorities. What other result is possible after you imprison minorities for drug possession, and then release them from prison with a criminal record which makes it very difficult to ever get a  job?

3. Libertarianism is a boys’ club.

He is right here. There have been prominent libertarians among libertarian intellectual leaders. I have known female libertarians. They do exist.

4. Libertarians are pro-drug, pro-abortion and anti-religion.

As I mentioned above, it is a favorable characteristic that libertarians oppose the drug war (which is not the same as supporting drug use). Having thirty percent of libertarians opposing abortion rights is a negative.

Saying any political group is anti-religion is likely to be fallacious. Republicans have often claimed Democrats are anti-religion but the percentage of atheists among Democrats is fairly low (even if  higher than among Republicans). The difference is that liberals who are religious see religion far differently than conservatives, and do not have the desire to use government to impose their religious views upon others.

Some libertarians are quite hostile to religion. Ayn Rand (who didn’t actually consider herself part of the libertarian movement) has writings as  hostile towards religion as to socialism (which in her mind would include the views of Democrats). On the other hand, there are some called libertarians such as Ron Paul and Rand Paul who support many of the views of the religious right, and whose  philosophy is not one I would consider to be pro-freedom. I have discussed Ron Paul’s anti-freedom views at length here. People of the old right such as Ron Paul also carry much of their baggage including racism, creating further problems when considering libertarians and minorities.

5. Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party.

On the one hand Republicans do need a reboot in their ideas. It is a good sign when some Republicans join some Democrats on issues such as opposing violations of privacy rights from NSA surveillance programs. On the other hand, opposing all government activity regardless of importance just pulls Republicans further from mainstream views.

 

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Majority Supports Legalization of Marijuana

We’ve seen it with same-sex marriage, and now we are seeing the same phenomenon with legalization of marijuana The United States, while still suffering from a strong and dangerous conservative movement, in general is rapidly becoming more liberal on social issues. The Pew Research Center found that a majority support legalization of marijuana:

For the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. A national survey finds that 52% say that the use of marijuana should be made legal while 45% say it should not.

Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010. The change is even more dramatic since the late 1960s. A 1969 Gallup survey found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84% were opposed.

Not surprisingly, liberal Democrats are far more likely than conservative Republicans to support legalization:

Only about three-in-ten conservative Republicans (29%) say marijuana use should be legal. Moderate and liberal Republicans are far more likely than conservatives to favor legalization (53%).

Like Republicans, Democrats are ideologically divided over legalizing marijuana. While 73% of liberal Democrats favor legalizing use of marijuana, only about half of conservative and moderate Democrats agree (52%).

Despite these partisan differences, both parties have similar views on enforcement of marijuana laws:

There are partisan differences over legalizing marijuana use and whether smoking marijuana is morally wrong. But Republicans and Democrats have similar views on enforcing marijuana laws: 57% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats say that the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that permit its use. Substantial majorities of both Republicans (67%) and Democrats (71%) also say federal enforcement of marijuana laws is not worth the cost.

I wonder if many Republicans are looking at this from a states’ rights point of view. They also might be viewing this as fiscal conservatives, realizing that prohibition does not work and therefore not worth spending money on.

Perhaps this will also lead to decreased overall support for the drug war, and support for  allocating more resources towards addressing the underlying problems contributing to drug addiction and abuse as opposed to perpetuating the drug war.

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Michigan Court Decision Restricts Access To Medical Marijuana

While Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has come under well-deserved national criticism for giving into the right wing recently, Michigan elected far more dangerous conservatives in 2010. This includes Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has been working to undermine the medical marijuana laws passed by Michigan voters. Schuette received a huge boost in his efforts from a Michigan Supreme Court decision:

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Friday the state’s medical marijuana law makes dispensaries illegal, throwing owners and patients into panicked uncertainty.

State officials said the justices’ 4-1 decision goes into “immediate effect” and could mean legal action against dispensaries that don’t close.

“It’s really up in the air at this point as to whether we’ll open tomorrow or not,” said Jamie Lowell, a co-founder of 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti, on Friday. “We’re still evaluating the decision with our attorneys. What it comes down to is whether we have any protections or defenses in the event we decide to continue helping people.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who joined the Isabella County prosecutor in a suit seeking the closure of another dispensary as a public nuisance, offered this interpretation of the ruling:

“Today, Michigan’s highest court clarified that this law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not an open door to unrestricted marijuana sales,” he said in a statement Friday. “Dispensaries will have to close their doors. Sales or transfers between patients or between caregivers and patients other than their own are not permitted under the Medical Marihuana Act.”

This interpretation of the law provides very limited access to medical marijuana:

According to the ruling, the only legal sales of medical marijuana in Michigan are those specifically allowed in the state act. It states that as many as five state-approved users may register with a single state-approved caregiver, who then becomes a long-term provider of the drug — but only to those five users.

There is a bill in the Michigan legislature to legalize dispensaries, but for now it is doubtful the current dispensaries will be able to remain open without facing  prosecution. Schuette has been working to prevent the use of medical marijuana since taking office and I’m sure he will be able to find additional means to harass users regardless of whether dispensaries are legalized.

The best solution is to prevent any legal harassment of those who desire to use marijuana for medical purposes is to end attempts at prohibition and totally remove prosecutors from the issue by either legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana. The California Medical Association has previously called for legalization of marijuana with current laws creating an untenable situation.

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We Have Lost The War On Drugs

It has become extremely rare these days to find an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal to recommend, but there is an exception today. The drug war is an issue where there is division on both the right and left, with some on both sides agreeing that it has become a fiasco which we cannot benefit from continuing. Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphey ask, Have We Lost The War on Drugs? They quickly answered their question:

By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don’t include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify.

While exact quantification is difficult, they proceeded to explain many of these harmful effects.

They recommend decriminalization, using Portugal as an example:

One moderate alternative to the war on drugs is to follow Portugal’s lead and decriminalize all drug use while maintaining the illegality of drug trafficking. Decriminalizing drugs implies that persons cannot be criminally punished when they are found to be in possession of small quantities of drugs that could be used for their own consumption. Decriminalization would reduce the bloated U.S. prison population since drug users could no longer be sent to jail. Decriminalization would make it easier for drug addicts to openly seek help from clinics and self-help groups, and it would make companies more likely to develop products and methods that address addiction.

Some evidence is available on the effects of Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs, which began in 2001. A study published in 2010 in the British Journal of Criminology found that in Portugal since decriminalization, imprisonment on drug-related charges has gone down; drug use among young persons appears to have increased only modestly, if at all; visits to clinics that help with drug addictions and diseases from drug use have increased; and opiate-related deaths have fallen.

Decriminalization of all drugs by the U.S. would be a major positive step away from the war on drugs. In recent years, states have begun to decriminalize marijuana, one of the least addictive and less damaging drugs. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in about 20 states, and it is de facto decriminalized in some others as well. If decriminalization of marijuana proves successful, the next step would be to decriminalize other drugs, perhaps starting with amphetamines. Gradually, this might lead to the full decriminalization of all drugs.

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