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Florida Republicans and the Risks of Fighting the Inevitable on Marijuana

March 13, 2014 - 7:00pm

Florida Republicans must come to grips with a bill introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, to legalize a strain of marijuana effective in helping children with certain conditions as well as a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by Orlando lawyer John Morgan to legalize medicinal marijuana as prescribed by a doctor. Republicans should support both.

Perhaps the late William F. Buckley said it best when he said, Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.

It is safe to say that some Republicans have been doing a rather convincing facsimile of declin[ing] to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their head and reconsider is too great." As on gay marriage, the GOP has allowed itself to hold an increasingly unpopular view on a developing social movement simply because of a traditional aversion to the cause. In doing so, they have allowed themselves to ignore very good, oft-conservative, arguments.

Lets face the facts: legalizing pot is unlikely to prove to be a magic cure for state budget woes, and those who argue it will are likely dishonest (or perhaps sampling a bit too much of the merchandise). However, any calculation of the fiscal effect of legalization (or decriminalization) must include not only a substantial increase on the revenue side of the ledger, but also the corresponding decrease on the expenditure side.

Not only could police forces redirect funds toward the prevention of violent crime, but the pressures put upon state budgets by prosecuting and locking up millions of nonviolent marijuana dealers would be substantially reduced.

Setting aside the arguments regarding personal responsibility, and the very real potential benefit to society from expanded research into medical uses for cannabis, the fiscal and policing issues alone should be enough to drive the movement toward the position greater society is already adopting.

Florida Republicans considering the legal future of marijuana should note the results of the Conservative Political Action Conferences poll of 2014 attendees, which showed, among other things, some form of legal marijuana received support from 62 percent of attendees. In addition, fully 41 percent of those polled supported the full legalization and regulation of marijuana (with the remaining 21 percent of support coming in the form of stated support for legalized medical marijuana.)

The fact is, a majority of the population at large already thinks the drug should be legal, and the upward trend has shown no sign of slowing. And yes, young people, who among the population at large support legalization at rates of 2-to-1, have driven much of that growth. The CPAC organizers acknowledged as much in pointing out that the numbers referenced above were driven by the young people who flock to CPAC every year; however, the organizers also acknowledged that a plurality of all those interviewed -- across age ranges -- support legalization, except for those over the age of 65.

It has been said many times that the Republican Party relies too heavily on a dwindling number of older voters, and as with gay marriage, the numbers on the marijuana issue are similarly sobering for one who worries for the future of the conservative movement.

If the leaders of todays conservative movement can lift their heads long enough to recognize the inevitability of the mainstreaming of marijuana, the movement will find itself not only on the correct side of history, but also in agreement with its base. Additionally, from a political perspective, it will provide the younger half of the electorate -- who, due to the gay marriage issue, already view the party as being out of touch with their values -- with a reason to listen to the arguments conservatives make on other issues.

A platform of personal freedom can be compelling for tomorrows voter; however, as long as the leaders of the movement remain stubbornly committed to prohibition; and limiting that freedom, neither the party nor the movement will be able to do more than count on the support of an ever-dwindling supply of older voters.

The longer conservatives find themselves on the wrong side by supporting irrational sentencing guidelines, eliminating the ability of violent drug cartels to finance their operations through the marijuana black market, raising state revenue, and opening thousands of prison beds for violent criminals, the more difficult it will be to convince voters of their genuine conversion when the shift inevitably happens. There is a conservative argument to be made in support of the pro-pot movement, and the sooner the leadership of the movement embraces it, the sooner they will find themselves able to attract new voters to our timeless message of personal freedom and a smaller state.

A decade ago Bill Buckley warned the conservative movement that it had fallen into a rut of intellectual laziness. Had the movement heeded his warning, it would not be forced to play catch-up. Should it refuse to heed his warning now, it risks losing an entire generation to liberalism in the same way the left lost the 30 years following the Johnson presidency.

Roger J. Stone Jr., with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C., is a legendary political consultant and lobbyist who specializes in opposition research for the Republican National Committee. Hehas played a key role in the election of Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He is also the author of "The Man Who Killed Kennedy -- the Case Against LBJ" (Skyhorse).This column is exclusive to Sunshine State News.

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