While campaigning in Seattle, Washington, last Thursday, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson predicted that marijuana would be legalized in the U.S. by 2016 and reiterated his support for its legalization.
Dean Chambers, who covers the 2012 elections for the Examiner.com, argues that Johnson and libertarians in general are making a mistake by raising the issue of marijuana legalization. "The voters have never shown a willingness to elect a candidate to the presidency who makes legalizing pot the number one issue," writes Chambers. "Never at any time have the polls on issue priorities ever shown the American people viewing the legalization of marijuana as the highest national priority. The Libertarian Party nominee always goes to pot and marginalizes themselves for doing so."
I completely disagree. Johnson is absolutely right to make this an important issue for several reasons.
First of all, the increased attention now given to libertarian national politicians like Johnson and Ron Paul -- and the general growth of libertarianism in this country in general -- has occurred not because of attention to polls or supposed popularity of certain issues, but because of a firm defense of principles combined with political conditions that have proved libertarians right.
For example, even a decade ago, the Federal Reserve and Keynesian monetary policy was not loudly questioned. If the American people were polled, they would have likely put it near the bottom of their concerns. But Paul and libertarian economists, armed with a louder voice thanks to the internet, constantly argued the case for sound money and have been for over a century. When their predictions about the business cycle took center stage with the 2007-2008 financial crises and a bubble bursting, people were soon drawn to their answers. They didn't water down their message or put their fingers to the wind; they patiently stood tall, shouting from the rooftops for anyone with ears to listen.
Thanks to this, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is forced to hold public press conferences for PR purposes, people are more aware of the dangers of central banking than ever before, and the House just passed Paul's bill to audit the Federal Reserve by an overwhelming margin.
Marijuana legalization, just like the economic case against central banking, is an issue fundamentally based on the ethics and morality of individual liberty, part of a consistent and coherent message. Marijuana prohibition, as part of the drug war, not only affects those who have committed no crime against anyone else (almost half of marijuana arrests are for possession alone) but has led to a systematic erosion of basic civil liberties, the highest prison population in the world, and has encouraged police militarization. With the success that a principled and articulate defense of sound money has, Johnson's forecast of marijuana being legalized by 2016 can't be far off.
Secondly, Johnson's opposition looks like cold-hearted authoritarians in comparison. Back in 2007 while campaigning for the Republican nomination, Romney was asked by a wheelchair-bound man with a rare case of muscular dystrophy whether or not Romney would arrest him and/or his doctors who prescribed him marijuana. Romney turned his back on him and robotically reiterated his stance against medical marijuana. This time around, Romney told supporters he would fight medical marijuana "tooth and nail" as president and repeated lies that it would "create a drug culture" and that weed is a "gateway drug" (sorry Mitt, but alcohol is the real gateway drug).
President Obama -- while trying to convince his gullible liberal supporters otherwise -- has been a ruthless drug warrior and in using the federal government to raid marijuana facilities even when they are legal under state law. A second Obama term would undoubtedly be more of the same.
And finally, even if one is frightened at the radical notion that individuals, not the government, own their bodies and how they use them, Johnson and the libertarians have science and compassion on their side. The use of marijuana can prevent, cure, or greatly reduce the pain from a multitude of crippling diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and strokes. And unlike poisonous and legal prescription drugs, there are virtually no side effects. As Johnson pointed out in his Washington campaign stop, "The world will be a better place" when it is legal, because "police will go out and fight real crime, court dockets won't get as filled up, and maybe we can reduce the highest incarceration rate in the world."
Perhaps it is true that marijuana legalization isn't at the top of voters’ minds with problems like unemployment, little economic growth, and an unaccountable messy drone war in the forefront. But these issues are all intertwined and have a common cause: the rejection of individual liberty and private property, whether in the creation of wealth and capital in the marketplace or what substances we put into our bodies.
Johnson's support for marijuana legalization will help, not hinder his campaign. More and more people will be drawn to this issue and people who advocate for it in the same way that people are increasingly drawn to non-interventionist foreign policy and sound money. And who knows? With more support and coverage, Johnson could get the 15% needed to participate in the national presidential debates and help explain what monsters his opponents are. But that will only be because of principles and articulating them firmly and clearly, not by taking polls.