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Are Republicans Turning Against the Drug War?

Submitted by smorgan on
Everyone knows Republicans love the drug war and Democrats are hippies who want to legalize pot. Right? Not necessarily.

Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley are probably the best-known republicans to oppose the war on drugs, and they did so with eloquence that's seldom been matched across the political spectrum. Both men have passed however, and it's often assumed that the party of limited government and state's rights would remain strangely, yet steadfastly invested in the infinitely costly and oppressive war on drugs.

It's not that there aren’t notable exceptions; Ron Paul's rapid rise to national fame in 2008 demonstrated the vigor of libertarian-leaning conservatives who craved an opportunity to cast a vote for drug reform in the republican primaries. In addition to Paul, prominent conservatives Grover Norquist and Tucker Carlson have been strong supporters of reform (watch Carlson TKO drug warrior Mark Souder on MSNBC, for example). But the GOP's reputation as the party of braindead drug war demagoguery nonetheless remains cemented in the public consciousness thanks to the anti-drug posturing of party leaders like Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Recent weeks have brought some encouraging signs that the drug policy reform argument is gaining ground with conservatives. FOX News' Glenn Beck recently interviewed Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia and then came out in support of marijuana legalization a week later. Beck articulated the role of marijuana prohibition in subsidizing Mexican drug war violence in a segment that came off as remarkably pro-reform for FOX News. Proving it's not a fluke, we also saw LEAP's Norm Stamper on FOX News' Red Eye program delivering a superb indictment of the war on drugs that had host Greg Gutfeld nodding in agreement.

Meanwhile, conservative commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan penned a column last week quoting Milton Friedman and questioning the very foundations of the war on drugs. Though not thrilled about the idea of legalizing drugs, Buchanan suggests that Mexico's survival may depend on ending the drug war. Like Glenn Beck, Buchanan had not been previously known to support reform and seems to be getting the message now that the failure of prohibition in Mexico is becoming a threat to our own national security.

Obviously, much work remains to be done towards generating mainstream political support for drug policy reform among conservatives (and liberals, for that matter). Still, there can be no question that the tone of the conversation is shifting and new voices are entering the discussion. An economic crisis and an unstable border may provide focal points for an evolving dialogue, but there's more to it than just that. Consider, for instance, that the new administration recently pledged to end medical marijuana raids and it's just about the only thing Obama's done that hasn’t provoked attacks from republicans.

The political landscape with regards to drug policy reform is shifting in a subtle, yet powerful way. In many cases, our greatest obstacle hasn't always been pure political opposition, but rather a partisan political climate in which our issue is viewed as unstable terrain. The moment public opinion tips far enough – as with medical marijuana – the fear of political attacks evaporates because your opponents can’t use popular positions against you. Once it becomes clear that certain reforms carry no political risk, our infinitely feisty political culture focuses its hostility elsewhere and it becomes possible to do things like end medical marijuana raids without anyone saying a damn thing.

More importantly, as our political culture finally begins to embrace the need for an open and mature discussion about reforming drug policy, we'll begin to hear what influential people actual believe, instead of what they've been taught to say.

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