Drugs, Libertarians, and the 2008 Presidential Campaign

It's a little more than six months to the November elections, and most observers are focused on the battle between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic Party nomination, with Republican nominee-in-waiting Senator John McCain garnering less attention. But there is life beyond the two major political parties, and it is the third parties, especially the Greens and the Libertarians, and the independent Ralph Nader candidacy, where radical drug policy platforms are the norm -- not the exception.

A few major party primary candidates did advocate ending drug prohibition -- Democrat Mike Gravel, Republican Ron Paul, and to a lesser extent Democrat Dennis Kucinich. But even the highly energized Paul campaign did not approach the vote count of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination. To find anti-prohibitionist campaign platforms in the general election, then, one must turn to third parties. This week, Drug War Chronicle will look at the Libertarian Party. Next week, it will be the turn of the Greens and the Naderites.

The Libertarians have traditionally been anti-prohibitionist, and their current drug policy issue statement and drug policy platform this year are no exception. In the latter, the party lays out its basic principle on drug policy: "Individuals should have the right to use drugs, whether for medical or recreational purposes, without fear of legal reprisals, but must be held legally responsible for the consequences of their actions only if they violate others' rights." In the former, it says simply the correct policy is "end prohibition."

With the party convention set for May 22-26 in Denver, the 19-man field in pursuit of the party's presidential nomination includes at least one prominent medical marijuana activist and long-time Libertarian, Steve Kubby, along with two high-profile party newcomers who have become instant front-runners, former Georgia Republican Rep. Bob Barr and former Democratic Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska. Gravel joined the party last week and simultaneously announced his campaign for the nomination.

As would be expected among prospective Libertarian nominees, all three leading candidates take a strong stand for individual liberty, although only Gravel and Kubby explicitly mention ending the drug war. "It is time to end the drug war," Gravel says on his issues page. "The war on drugs: end it," says Kubby on his.

"Senator Gravel is using the drug war as a centerpiece of his campaign," said Gravel campaign field organizer Jose Rodriguez. "He talks about it often."

Gravel's departure from the Democratic Party was a long time coming, said Rodriguez. "If you go back to his Senate days, he was always viewed as a maverick, and over the course of time, the Democrats have gone from being the party of labor and FDR to the party of Wall Street," he argued. "The senator has come to realize his values are much closer to those of the Libertarian Party than the Democratic Party."

Although in a former incarnation, Barr was a staunch foe of drug reform, even going so far as to author the Barr amendment to the annual Washington, DC, appropriations bill barring the District from counting the votes in a winning medical marijuana initiative, he was otherwise a civil libertarian with a strong interest in privacy rights. After losing his House seat (ironically at least in part because his opposition to medical marijuana led to his being targeted by then Libertarian national political director Ron Crickenberger), Barr has slowly drifted away from Republican orthodoxy, even going so far as to work as a lobbyist for the ACLU and the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Bob Barr lobbied for us on medical marijuana on the Hill last year, particularly on repealing his own amendment and Hinchey-Rohrabacher," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Prior to losing his seat in Georgia, he was a civil libertarian with some notable exceptions, the drug war being the major one, but that has changed. When people come over from the dark side, they should be welcomed," he added.

Californian Steve Kubby isn't about to stand aside for the newcomers. With a long history in the party and wide name recognition among drug reform activists, he is mounting a serious campaign for the nomination -- and he thinks he can win.

"There is an epic storm brewing in the party," he said. "We have Gravel, a liberal Democrat who just announced as a Libertarian, and we have Bob Barr, former CIA agent and federal prosecutor, former drug warrior leader, telling us he's undergone a conversion. The party has really rallied behind him," Kubby said.

But, Kubby argued, both Gravel and Barr have made a fatal error by embracing the "fair tax" proposal, which would replace income taxes with a national sales tax. "Both these guys have screwed up in a major way and demonstrated their newbie status by embracing the fair tax. For Libertarians, this is like violating the Holy Grail. We hate the fair tax."

By bringing sufficient delegates to Denver (all you have to do to be a delegate is join the party and show up, about 750 are expected to attend), Kubby said, he could win the nomination. "In addition to the folks who are already going, we're trying to line up 75 new people to register and show up as delegates. Ed Rosenthal and Jack Herer have already committed to be there for the duration," he announced.

"The convention will be the single greatest media opportunity for this movement for the entire year, and I think as a medical marijuana activist, I can send a very loud message," adding that the party's ballot access in all 50 states means the media will follow it.

A Kubby campaign would also invigorate the party's anti-drug war wing, he argued. While ending drug prohibition was a high-profile issue for the party during Crickenberger's tenure, it has since faded somewhat. "The Libertarian Party hasn't gotten much traction with the drug war issue," he said. "But if the party saw 75 new delegates at the convention, I think it would be happy to jump back on the bandwagon."

While the Libertarian contenders slug it out for the nomination next month, drug reformers are once again engaged in the perennial, quadrennial debate over purity versus pragmatism.

Long-time drug reformer Kevin Zeese has given up on the mainstream parties as vehicles for fundamental change. In 2004, Zeese served as a spokesman for the Nader presidential campaign, and in 2006 he ran for the US Senate in Maryland under both the Green and the Libertarian Party banners.

"It's pretty stupid to look to the Democrats when it comes to the drug war," said Zeese. "Once they're in office, that will be a low-priority issue, and they will be loathe to risk being seen as soft on crime. It's going to take a political revolution to end the drug war, and you don't start a revolution by supporting the status quo."

While Steve Kubby may be trying to achieve a knock-out blow against Barr and Gravel, said Zeese, he is probably not going to be able to stop the Barr juggernaut. That could lead to a Barr-Gravel ticket, Zeese said, licking his chops.

"A Barr-Gravel ticket would be very strong and likely to hurt both parties, especially libertarian-leaning Republicans and anti-war/anti-intervention Republicans," said Zeese. "And, if the Ron Paul money machine, or part of it, goes toward them they could be a significant force."

Likewise, said Zeese, a Barr-Gravel ticket could siphon off some disaffected Democratic voters, particularly those with strong anti-war leanings. "If Obama continues to move to the right on the war," he said, "they could pull votes from the Democrats, too, or some of those voters could go for Nader or Cynthia McKinney and the Greens."

Unless and until Democrats are willing to take concrete actions to end the drug war, drug reformers shouldn't vote for them, Zeese argued. "I don't know why drug reformers keep voting for people who want to throw them in jail," he said. "The movement is asleep. You don't show your power by compromising and voting for people against you, even if that means John McCain gets elected. If Democrats want our support, they need to support our issue."

Not so fast, retorted Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance Network, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "When it comes to drug policy reform, there is a significant and growing difference between the candidates of the two major parties, between Clinton or Obama and McCain," he said. "There are real differences on a range of issues from incarceration to needle exchange to treatment and prevention, and it would be foolish to deny that."

Democrats now are better on drug reform than in the past, Nadelmann argued. "Look at Pelosi, Conyers, Kucinich, Bobby Scott, Waxman -- all of whom hold leadership positions -- and compare them with the Democrats of the late 1980s or 1990s, folks like Rostenkowski and O'Neill and Moynihan. We did the Shadow Convention at the Democratic convention in 2000 because we didn't see much distinction between the Democrats and the Republicans. We're not doing that this year in part because we do see real differences."

Still, even Nadelmann was willing to hold Democrats to the fire by voting third party -- as long as it didn't affect the ultimate outcome of the election. "If you're voting based on drug policy issues, my pragmatic advice would be to vote the Democrat in any swing state and vote for the third party candidate in any safe state," said Nadlemann. "That's how we can become most effective."

The Libertarians are fighting it out to see who will carry the party's banner in November. Now, drug reformers will once again have to fight it out over whether to support reformists or revolutionaries when it comes to our issue.

[This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so. Writing staff attempted to craft this article with full journalistic integrity as we do with our 501(c)(3) publishing.]

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Bob Barr is STILL Pro Drug War

THE SMOKING GUN:Still the Drug Warrior; Bob Barr in his own words

Don't fall for this HYPOCRIT.

Barr you have STRUCK OUT !

I had hoped to overlook his non-libertarian leanings, I can no longer do so, Not only is he still Pro Drug War, he advocates Foreign Aid and Intervention. That's three "MAJOR" strikes Bob, YOU'RE OUT!! We don’t need this HYPOCRIT a top the LP. He also needs to be taken off the LP natcom as quickly as possible !

Looks like no Ron Paul love for Bob Barr afterall:


The one very, very, very bad idea that Barr and Gravel share is the fraudulent “fair” tax. For details, see



please also read the links inside those articles.

Tom also summarizes some of the problems here


Take another look at LP candidate Wayne Allyn Root

This article misses the mark and leaves out Wayne Allyn Root LP candidate for President that is also very out spoken about legalizing medical marijuana and posseson.

Granted Root isn't an in your face type of candidate he IS for legalizing marijuana. While this may not satisfy all who oppose the drug war Root is a serious committed supporter of ending the prohibition on marijuana.

What is also missing is that Root has garnered more major media appearances than all the "declared" candidates combined and in every appearance challenges the drug war.

But here's the biggest factor overlooked in the analysis. Root is just as much a front runner if not more so than any of the above mentioned candidates. Consider:
Root beat Barr, Gravel, Ruwart, and Kubby in a head to head poll conducted in Kansas City just last weekend with 85 voters.
Barr isn't on the ticket so he's not a sure thing. But his track record is. Yuk
Gravel hasn't managed traction of any note.
But Root has won every debate in which he's participated save one in Ohio with 20 people in attendance.
Kubby's campaign has already fizzeled with much of his suppot going to Barr or Ruwart.
Ruwart just hasn't the gravitas that the front runners have and has little or no media presence.
It's time to try a new approach.
If you really want to move the ball across the line Root looks like the better choice of all the candidates declared or not.
check him out at www.RootforAmerica.com listen to his interviews. He's clean never having done drugs but he's saying all the right things for getting big government out of our lives.

will things change after the election?

Change, it seems to be the mantra of not only the Democrats, but Senator McCain has picked up the chant too, pointing out his maverick reputation. The central question remains, what will real change amount to?
Healthcare for all our citizens, winning the war on terror, better break for the middle class, no more dependence on foreign energy?
Even if all these things happen will it amount to any kind of real change? Will you still be worried if you have to use a cash machine late at night? Will there still be gang violence if we all have health care? Will you still worry that your kids are in a dangerous place trying to score some weed? Will people still be afraid to sit on their front porch without getting hit by a stray bullet?
Try this, bring up the subject of marijuana in a crowd like a restaurant or store and use the word drugs or marijuana in a somewhat loud voice. Watch the people near you
automatically lower their voices or move away from you out of what? Bad hygiene? Bad breath? No, they lower their voices out of fear, not fear of drug dealers or users. They move away and lower their voices out of fear of the LAW! Someone might say I heard so and so talking about drugs ect: ect:
I don’t know about you but as a lifelong defender of this great nation this is certainly not the America I fought for.
The huge black market in drugs is the financial machine which pays for the gangs and guns and violence that plagues us all from large city to little burg. If these politicians really want change they will get serious about ending this long nightmare.
There will be no real change in America until the ’police state like cloud’ of the War on Drugs , which hangs over the country like smog over LA, is dissipated by the fresh wind and bright light of personal freedom.

David Dunn's picture

Legalize all things cannabis

Granted, the war on drugs is a travesty and a gross miscarriage of justice.

By legalizing all things cannabis, the means are then available to break the economic back of the illicit drug market. The recreational use of cannabis has that potential. But cannabis has a multitude of other uses.

Fuels, foods, fibers, medicines and jobs can be created from cannabis. These are both economic and environmental issues.

Flat taxers are like flat earthers. Ron Paul would fit right in. He said that evolution is just a theory. Well, so is gravity just a theory.

Our founders envisioned a system of taxation based on proportion. In Federalist Paper No. 12, hemp-advocate Alexander Hamilton wrote:

The ability of a country to pay taxes must always be proportioned, in a great degree, to the quantity of money in circulation, and to the celerity with which it circulates.


All monetary transactions would be taxed proportionally. When the drug dealer makes a deposit of drug money into the bank, he'd pay a transaction fee. Likewise, when the banks transfer laundered drug money from account to account, each transaction would pay a fee.

It would be like a toll on the economic highway. Food, clothing, medicines, cars, houses, horses, leaving an estate to heirs, capital gains and dividends are all transactions and would be subject to the toll.

The rate could start out as low as 1% and go up proportionally, to probably about 8% at which point it would then flatten out and would continue to infinity. No upper limit exclusions as with Social Security. A proportional tax could eliminate the income tax and end all business "expense" deductions. Sorry. No more loopholes.

Flat taxers never address the inequities of their tax especially as it applies to Social Security. The see the flat tax like a national sales tax or a value added tax. That misses too much other money that's in circulation. It was that circulation of money and how often it circulates that our founders wanted to tax.

Our founders viewed money as like blood to the body, although then the circulation of blood in the body was not well understood. However, Hamilton also wrote in Federalist Paper No. 30:

Money is, with propriety, considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions.


The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.

— Thomas Jefferson

On the one hand, we have

On the one hand, we have Republicans who champion the notion of government persecution an prosecution of drug users based on moral standards, but at least the Republicans are willing to slash drug task force budgets.

On the other hand, we have Democrats who champion freedom for the "little guy" to live, mostly without moral judgements being levied against him, yet the Democrats will be the first ones to jack up the very government funding which is used to persecute and prosecute drug users.

Only the third parties, specifically the Libertarians, will do both: support an individual's right to live how he wants as long as he harms no other, AND will also slash the government budgets that prop up the drug war...

Great Article

Thanks DRC for this informative and mainly factual article. I am going to be an official delegate at the Libertarian Convention. While it is not too complicated to be a delegate, it is not quite the case that you just have to "show up" to be one.

Unlike the media circuses/coronations that the Republicans and Democrats have, the Libertarians have conventions that actually decide who the national candidates will be.

The divisions are clearly spelled out in the article. Long time LP activists like Kubby or George Phillies (who has impressed me with his organization skills -- http://ChooseGeorge.org ) versus newcomers with problematic origins but possibly greater vote getting potential.

A Gravel/Barr fusion ticket would certainly turn heads in the MSM and perhaps the nation, but I don't know if the party regulars are going to go down that path. They might. If they would both give up the idiotic "Fair Tax" idea it would be an easier pill to swallow.

Right now I don't know what I am going to do.

They are all just going to have to persuade me and the other delegates at the convention.

Mary Ruwart

What about new candidate Mary Ruwart?

Her candidate site does not list her views on drugs, but her site on the advocates does.


She would also be a good drug reformer.

Barr/Gravel Ticket

A Barr/Gravel ticket would be disastrous! Gravel's stances hardly measure up to almost any Libertarian plank and Barr's voting record is absolutely horrendous. People have been to quick to except either of them. If you want a good moderate Libertarian Wayne Root has a lot of energy but he is very moderate on the war(he will end it but not immediately) and hard on immigration(sealing the border but allowing a strict path to citizenship). He does not talk about the more extreme stances(Federal Reserve, Drug Policy) as not to alienate new voters but I think a good VP like Christine Smith or Steve Kubby would be a good counter to Root moderate stances, bringing more legitimacy in hardliners eyes. Kubby brings legitimacy on drug reform, Smith speaks out against the Federal Reserve and the both have a much more extreme approach to the foreign policy. Kubby would be especially good because Root brings the "right"-libertarian views of removing government from issues such as abortion and marriage while advocating more free market environmentalism, resembling Ron Paul on the issues. Kubby, on the other hand, is more "left"; advocating government protect abortion and marriage rights while implementing environmental regulations. They would be a good balance and a Kubby/Root ticket would about as good as a Root/Kubby ticket.

Worried about disaster?

It would be disastrous to have to choose between McCain and Clinton.

ANYONE running under the Libertarian banner will look like an angel of light compared to the dark choices offered by the Republicans and Democrats.


Americans are too dumb to vote for freedom via non-major party candidate. No matter who wins, "We, the People" will lose. I wish there was a country to which I could flee to for refuge but US has bullied and coerced the world into following its lead. I wish I could be positive and admit there was hope but with Ron Paul out of the picture the glimmer of hope that was once there is gone.

Wayne Root is the only serious LP candidate

Barr is not to be trusted, and all the others are unelectable. http://www.rootforamerica.com

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