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3 Ways Marijuana Sorts Conservatives from Libertarians

The sorting question? Who owns your life?

Walter Hudson


January 24, 2014 - 3:00 pm


I stand as guilty as the next guy of using the words “conservative” and “libertarian” interchangeably. Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of either term. When used, they conjure up whatever baggage a given mind associates with them, rather than what was intended. In the realm of politics, these terms get mushed together in an effort to rally coalition. Whatever a conservative and a libertarian are respectively, it would seem there aren’t enough of either for each to work alone.

That said, certain issues bring to the fore fundamental differences which exist between conservatives and libertarians. In the wake of Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, drug prohibition gains fresh prominence as one such issue.

Prolific conservative author, editor, and publisher John Hawkins, who also contributes to PJ Media, provides fodder for discerning those differences in a recent piece at Townhall. “5 Reasons Marijuana Should Remain Illegal” lays out arguments which fall into three categories distinguishing conservatives from libertarians.

Understanding these differences requires some working definitions. Broadly speaking, a conservative seeks to maintain existing institutions and uphold or restore traditions. A libertarian prioritizes individual rights above all else, even at the expense of institutions and traditions. One can be a “conservative-libertarian” by supporting an institution like the family or the church without condoning the use of force to that end. The philosophical line of demarcation separates collectivism from individualism. With that said, let’s explore 3 ways marijuana sorts conservatives from libertarians.


1) Collective Responsibility

The perception shared by many that little difference exists between Democrats and Republicans persists because little fundamental difference exists between progressives and conservatives. Each orients toward opposing poles on the same axis, a spectrum of collectivism. In his piece at Townhall, Hawkins collectivizes responsibility for individual lives. He writes:

How many lives are we willing to flush down the drain because a significant number of Americans tried pot a handful of times in their lives, got away with it and now feel guilty about it?

That’s quite a presumption. Could it be that opponents of prohibition simply believe it’s wrong?

The greater presumption is that you and I share responsibility for a third party’s behavior. We don’t. People’s lives, like their liberty and their property, remain theirs to dispose of as they wish. That principle proves Hawkins’ many arguments regarding addiction and health hazards moot.

Hawkins opens his piece wondering how we arrived at the point “where Big Gulps are being banned in New York while the welcome mat for potheads is being rolled out in Colorado.” Yet, he never offers a significant distinction between Big Gulps and pot. He cities studies which herald the harm marijuana inflicts when consumed habitually. We stand wondering how his argument against pot differs substantially from Bloomberg’s against soda pop. We can argue over the scope of harm. Yet the question remains whether any harm inflicted upon self ought to be public business. Answering in the affirmative expresses collectivism. As individualists, libertarians lay no claim over their neighbor’s judgment.


2) Making the World a Better Place (at the Point of a Gun)

Hawkins concludes his piece by sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the condition of liberty. He asks:

Is legalizing marijuana going to make this a better country or a worse one? Would you want to live in a neighborhood filled with people who regularly smoke marijuana? Would you want your kids regularly smoking pot?

That’s one of many reference to kids smoking marijuana in the article, a scenario precisely no one advocates. The behavior of children remains the domain of their parents or guardians in any case, whether we have prohibition or not. Parents don’t want their children drinking either. Yet liquor remains legal for adults.

Again, we see the collectivizing of responsibility. You and I stand responsible, not just for our own conduct and welfare, but for making the country a better place.

Better than what? According to whom? A leftist definition of “better” includes guaranteed healthcare, food, and housing. Does the so-called social utility of policy deem it appropriate, or its effect upon rights?

People enjoying liberty craft their own definition of “better” in an individual pursuit of happiness. You won’t find me arguing that habitual marijuana use leads to lasting happiness. But I also won’t keep a man from arriving at his own conclusion.

The drive to make the world a better place can metastasize into forcing others to accept a world we prefer. History shows that such prohibition fosters outcomes worse for all.


3) Recognizing That Force Breeds Force

Hawkins seems to have missed the lesson of prohibition, or at least misread it:

There’s a reason pot was made illegal in the first place and quite frankly, the only reason alcohol and cigarettes are legal is because they’re so deeply ingrained in our society that we can’t get rid of them.

The implication rings clear. If it were conceivable to prohibit alcohol and tobacco, Hawkins would support it.

That position intrigues for two reasons. First, the very studies which Hawkins cite show that we haven’t eliminated marijuana by prohibiting it. If the elimination of a substance stands as the object of prohibition, it has obviously failed and ought to be abolished on the basis Hawkins provides. That yields to the second point.

Since when does the law rest upon any feasibility of its enforcement? Murder remains illegal no matter how many murders go unsolved. The same can be said of rape, burglary, fraud, and so forth. We keep those activities illegal, not because we can stop them all, but because they violate individual rights. Perhaps the reason Hawkins reluctantly tolerates the use of tobacco and alcohol is because he intuitively knows they trespass upon no one.

When we start initiating force rather than retaliating against it, which stands as the fundamental difference between prohibiting something like pot and prohibiting something like murder, we breed more force. Alcohol prohibition fostered organized crime. So has marijuana prohibition.

Worse yet, the initiation of force in its various forms becomes its own justification. Consider another of Hawkins’ scare tactics:

Do we move on from [marijuana] to Crack, Heroin or Meth? Some people would say, “If they want to do it, great, then it’s no business of ours.” But, you can also bet that those same people will be complaining about all the junkies and welfare cases that will be created by the policy they endorsed.

Who’s arguing for welfare? Get rid of that too. Get rid of all rights-violating policies and programs. Don’t use them to rationalize more.

Who owns your life? The answer defines the government’s role. To support drug prohibition, you must concede that your life belongs in some portion to the state. If your life is yours and yours alone, you may dispose of it as you see fit. That’s the bottom line in this and all public policy debates.

A big part of the reason anti-drug campaigns lack credibility is because they present a case which does not comport with experience. No one argues that smoking weed 27 out of 30 days, as subjects in one study cited by Hawkins did, proves healthy. Nevertheless, people retain the right to judge for themselves what trade-offs they are willing to endure in pursuit of happiness. In that way, no fundamental difference exists between Twinkies, Big Gulps, booze, or pot.

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, and as president of the Minority Liberty Alliance. He hosts a daily podcast entitled Fightin Words, proudly hosted on Twin Cities Newstalk Podcast Network. Walter is a city council member in Albertville, MN. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

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Top Rated Comments   
Libertarians are like Pacifists. They don't run anything bigger than a Math Club by their beliefs. Their ideology is just an excuse to stay on the sidelines and criticize. I see them like Europeans "partners" in a military alliance. They want to be taken seriously, but they don't want to have a military competent enough to matter.

The path to power for Libertarians is blow up the Republican Party and hope all the refugees become Libertatian. They warn SocCons to drop their social agenda or learn to say President Hillary. Well, the Libertarians keep pushing their social agenda and are happy to split the GOP and elect Hillary. They aren't worried about the economic consequences of Hillary, not enough to help stop her.

They cling to ideological purity more than any TEA Party Type and their ideology is as divorced from reality as the Commielibs'.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Have lives been wrecked through the simple act of smoking weed?

Yes, they have. There are numerous incidents yearly of people driving while under the influence of marijuana that cause accidents resulting in the deaths of other drivers. I have yet to hear of someone high on coffee resulting in the loss of control of their vehicle.

My bother is a long term smoker of marijuana. It has impacted his personal life and the lives of his wife and children. His daily routine is "wake and bake".

I've long held the opinion that whether marijuana or alcohol or pills, you get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence, the first offense should result in a minimum year in jail, a second offense should be 2 years minimum and any conviction resulting from injury of other parties should be 5 years.

I don't give a rat's behind what you do in private, but when you bring your behavior into public then be prepared to endure the consequences.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
BUT a corollary of the libertarian position on marijuana is that the individual who decides to smoke must be SOLELY responsible for the results of smoking. That means that they, and not the rest of us, must pay for their lung or throat cancer - they are not entitled to treatment if they cannot pay for it. A house fire caused by a dropped roach? They pay the full cost of the fire and police response. etc. etc. Unfortunately, the liberal approach is the individual gets the freedom while the rest of us pick up their costs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (141)
All Comments   (141)
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Libertarians are progressives with a different agenda. Always wanting to redefine history to fit their free market ideology.

I'm a capitalist, and love the free market. But libertarians these days are ANARCHISTS, which make them essentially treasonous. We can have broad regulations on business, as we ALWAYS have, without going down the rabbit hole of endless, anti-industrial regulations.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dope, Degrade, Democrat.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Many people argue that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to stronger drugs like cocaine or heroin. However, according to the CDC, prescription painkillers cause many more overdose deaths than either coke or heroin (see And the number of prescriptions filled for heavy-duty, opioid pain relievers has increased dramatically in recent years (ibid.). So shouldn't we be outlawing the REALLY BAD gateway drugs, like Tylenol, Motrin, aspirin, etc.? In comparison pot, as a gateway drug, seems benign. Seriously folks, I'm just pointing out, in a hopefully humorous way, how inane the whole (unproven) gateway drug theory is. P.S. -- no drugs were used in writing of this comment.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Opiate narcotic drugs work. They are among the oldest class of drugs known to medicine. The downsides are well known to every practitioner. Those are serious medicines which must be used carefully and with expertise.

It is not unknown that the euphoric effect is addicting and withdrawal from these drugs is difficult once the addiction and tolerance has taken hold.

It is well known in the medical profession today that aspirin and Tylenol would never have been approved as OTC drugs given what we have learned.

I agree with you about the gateway theory as nonsense. Some people have a drive to consume something to make them feel better. They will pick whatever they can get. Addiction models seem to run against a brick wall.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: just one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's the deal: if I could decree that, because the world would be better off without alcoholics, dopers, gamblers, prostitutes, etc.,alcohol, dope, gambling, prostitution, etc. would be abolished, I would issue the decree tomorrow.

Here's the problem: any government that has the power to make me do something for my own good also has the power to make me do something simply because that's what they want.

So, as this social conservative reluctantly concludes, government cannot be trusted with that kind of power. Legalize marijuana. Legalize dope. Legalize booze, legalize prostitution, get government out of the business of legislating vices out of business.

I have less to fear from the neighborhood doper than the goons who break and enter in the middle of night with the approval of a judge, a DA, and a police chief.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Howdy RT
Yes, that's essentially my own thought, but our lists of vices vs. pleasures might differ a bit.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Who owns your life? In Virginia now it is the Democrats thanks to the libertarians.

In the last election, there was a guy named Sarvis who wanted to be Governor. He quit the Republican part to run as a libertarian. Even though his policies were straight Democrats (higher taxes, more spending and regulation) he said the magic words: Legalize Pot. With that, Libertarians fell all over him. Didn't matter that Ron Paul told them Sarvis wasn't a libertarian, nor did they bother to research his platform, nor look under it to see the Obama man financing his campaign. Nope, they just wanted to get high.

Granted they still might. MacAuliffe is off to a roaring, hard left start so he probably will try to legalize drugs. In the mean time he is pushing through liberal social policy, will be coming after guns, raising taxes and spending, etc.

So, in Virginia, the Democrats own us and will tighten the leash, all thanks to libertarians and their lust for reefer.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I doubt you have any idea what a libertarian is, but if your description of libertarians in Virginia is true, you have stupid libertarians. If they are that dumb and can be led that easily, it was the republicans that were stupid for not putting out a brighter orange carrot to lead them by(though admittedly, experience shows that dems have more experience in leading the low info voter). As a Libertarian of 37 years, I have voted for 2 republicans and 0 democrats in my voting career.

I see 2 basic flaws in your accusation:
1) Was there a Libertarian Party candidate in the Virginia election? If not, there is no significant Libertarian party in the state, so your whines are baseless.
2) If there was a separate LP candidate, I doubt many libertarians actually voted for the dem because of pot so again your whines have no merit.

Stop listening to MSM, both sides of which have good reason to rationalize a 3rd party at every opportunity.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
These posts leave me cold. From the dropped context of "We the People" which conveniently leaves out "of the United States" thus identifying the people in question, to the spurious notion that the Constitution somehow prevents the States from making their own laws (of which the opposite is true).

I appreciate that "pot, weed, marijuana" (can you hear Rod Serling's voice over?) is the topic du jour for libertarians and conservatives to haggle over but there are much MUCH bigger fish.

Howabout this? Pj's has a nice contingent of both groups and lots and lots of crossover within those groups. The idea that the lines of distinction between libertarians and conservatives always revolve around drugs and abortion is so old and so stale and it isn't even true any more. There are sites for pro-life Objectivists who've outgrown the notions that somehow, miraculously a baby doesn't really exist until it breathes air. There are tons of conservatives who aren't bothered by notions of personal drug use AT ALL, but understand that the ability and right to make law resides in states and communities so that they can BE states and communities.

These discussions always become garbled and intellectual honesty goes out the window. I strongly suggest that PJ's introduce other topics with the intention of highlighting the differences or similarities of conservatism and libertarianism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
btw it's de jour not du jour shmuck, i hate overbearing yankers who think that they are intellectualy superior when they AREN'T
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"There's a reason pot was made illegal..."

Actually several reasons. Lies, lies, lies, lies, propaganda, fear and loathing.

See 'Reefer Madness.'

Um, people, Reefer Madness was not true! Pot's classification as Schedule I (no known medicinal use) is beyond absurd; the emperor is butt-ass naked. 'Nice clothes though,' say the fools.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Howdy KeepOnFlyin
"Reefer Madness" was overstated, yes. It had a kernel of truth.
Almost anything that causes people to feel euphoric and that lowers inhibitions may become habit-forming. Marijuana does both. And sometimes the lowering of inhibitions contributes to violent behavior, just as the use of liquor may.
Drugs of abuse have this difference from alcohol: they are not used for flavor or tradition. As a noted philosopher said, "You can drink a beer or a glass of wine without getting blasted." Drugs of abuse, and liquor can be one, are only for the purpose of altering the mood. Some people can enjoy the mood-altering affect and then go back to normal. Others crawl inside the bottle, the brownie, the pipe or the syringe.
I'll stand by my position that one's judgment on these issues is one's own right. I'll keep working and hoping to bring drug abuse out from under criminal law. I'm never going to be glad people choose abuse, though.
That noted philosopher, incidentally, was Jack Webb in the character of Sgt. Joe Friday.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
try this SKIPPY, if you had a magic wand that could ELIMINATE all drugs and their use as well as eliminate all ADDICTION, guess what? someone would make a new DRUG tommorrow and people WOULD take IT dolt grow up drugs are something we as a social group DO get over it
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The primary reason I'm against weed is because it tends to cause impairment and altered perception long after it has been used, and being an oil soluble compound it tends to stay in the system, to be released at odd intervals.

Do you want someone to start having old trips while they're on the freeway?

Nicotine doesn't screw with your judgement that way, and our body has a dedicated enzymatic system specifically for neutralizing the effects of ethanol, and we do lock people up if they drive under the influence.

That said, the punishment scale for drug use seems to be way out of whack with the actual crime. For things like PCP, that tend to make users highly violent, I can see felony charges and significant incarceration, but for the ones that don't make you an active threat to everyone around you, I'd think treating it more like a DUI would be more appropriate.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am frankly astonished that NO ONE here, has addressed the fact that it's very likely that the CO & WA voters who voted FOR recreational legalization may have been "closeted users", who (like most who use alcohol), indulge occasionally. The "extreme" examples cited here (& the ones the media LOVES to showcase) are the "potheads", who have likely NEVER voted & couldn't find their way to the polls. I fully expect the overwhelming majority of those who voted for this to be legal, work full time, have families & pay taxes, (in other words) "Responsible Adults"!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Libertarianism is based on a fantasy that everybody is rational, all "costs" can be easily quantified, and that their individual knowledge is superior to the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the generations who have gone before.

These are exact same errors that leftists make.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Nope, Libertarianism is based on the fact there are no rational people in government.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am not sure how you could be more wrong. Libertarianism is based on the idea that everyone is not rational and that laws can't make them rational. Costs can be easily quantifed if everyone is responsible for their own. Public costs of marijuana use would be nil if there were no publicly paid costs.

Leftists beliefs in whether everyone is rational is moot. They believe laws MAKE people rational and all costs are therefore worth it whatever they are.

I would say it was conservatives that are closest to believing most people are rational. Traditions and past proven models are a rational way to set your laws for everyone. They believe the unrational may be against those 'common sense' laws, but they are both the exceptions and, well, the irrational people.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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