Drugs

The Doper Vote

Orthodox leftists seem to be incapable of understanding the size and intensity of the anti-drug war movement. Do they think these people don't vote?
Doper support will be the kiss of death for Kerry, subscribers sneered on massively liberal dailykos.com when I posted the news that voters were being registered at the Washington state Hempfest. Do these people think that drug users don't vote? That they have no influence? That they still dress in bell bottoms and wear flowers in their hair?

The right wing is way ahead on this. Libertarians are almost uniformly in favor of immediate legalization. Even hard-core conservatives are anti-drugwar. On far right FreeRepublic.com, a drugwar abuse item typically pulls about 75 percent outright antidrugwar comments. The culturally tolerant fiscal conservative could be Kerry's key swing voter.

William F. Buckley, the orthodox conservative's Pope, complained that marijuana laws are based on "moral fanaticism." "What is required," he said, "is a genuine Republican groundswell. It is happening, but ever so gradually."

Buckley pointed to a 2003 Zogby survey showing that 40 percent of Americans believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it and make it illegal only for children." In the National Review, Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan A. Nadelmann writes that 72 percent now favor fines rather than jail for simple marijuana possession. At least 50 million have tried grass.

Orthodox leftists, however, seem to be incapable of understanding the size and – very important – intensity of the anti-drug war movement. They tend to support the enforced treatment model without fully understanding how nasty it is. Even when they are drug users themselves, many still privately think of smoking marijuana as a vice that they regret. Anti-drug war activists see it as self-medication, not just for physical pain, but for the otherwise usually intractable irritations of life in groups.

Many anti-drug war activists in forums such as DrugWar.com plan either to vote for Nader or abstain because Kerry is just another cop, even though he's softened his positions on drug enforcement since the campaign began. These are outspoken opinion leaders with very effective media information programs. Any convincing statement of sympathy would instantly move them.

Kerry could come out for a complete review of all drug policy issues by a blue ribbon panel of renowned experts. He needn't demand legalization, decriminalization or any other specific action. If asked, he would answer that he wants to know the facts before offering any positions.

No independent panel has ever found marijuana worth criminalizing. Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and the amphetamines will always be controlled substances, I'm sure. But mandatory sentences are already under heavy attack from the local governments that can't afford to pay for them. Only DEA shills deny that the drug war is an utter disaster.

Political campaigners don't care if illegal drug use is a vice or not, just how many net votes the issue will produce, and whether or not the number is worth the fire-alarms that taking a position will set off. Given the size of the prison and treatment industry, deafening sirens will suffocate any legislative drug reform enthusiasm.

Congressional Democrats are mostly either joined at the liver with the Republicans on drug policy, or too cowardly to speak out. Although it would be a devastating October surprise, Health and Human Services does not seem eager to use its power to reschedule marijuana as a therapeutically useful drug. The judiciary, however, is ripping mad about being throttled by Ashcroft's theological police.

Thus there's only one practical consideration left for the anti-drug war side. Who will appoint the judiciary, including as many as three Supreme Court justices?

The Supreme Court can legalize marijuana by fiat. Think of it – no negotiations and tortured lobbying, but genuine experts expounding on the facts, constrained by rules of evidence.

Pick one: Bush or Kerry. Which candidate is most likely to name judges who will interpret the Constitution of the United States according to facts in evidence rather than DEA propaganda?
Jules Siegel's essay, "The Last Word on Drugs," appears in "Under the Influence: The Disinformation Guide to Drugs" (Disinformation Company, October 2004).