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The Conservative War on the War on Drugs

By Suzanne Lindgren, Utne.com

A red state like Nevada may not top your list of pot-friendly places, but that could soon change. A legalizing initiative is scheduled to appear on the ballot there this fall. If approved, the "tax and regulate" measure would make the sale of marijuana more like alcohol, reports Sasha Abramsky for Mother Jones. Designated vendors would sell the substance -- taxed -- to those over 21, who could legally possess up to an ounce.

According to Abramsky, among the most enthusiastic supporters of the measure are conservatives. Many of them are tired of seeing resources wasted in a failed war on drugs, others are simply wary of overbearing government and law enforcement agencies. Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the reform-minded Drug Policy Alliance, explains: "At its core, conservatism is supposed to be about free markets, the rule of law, and smaller government -- and you can't have any of those when you have a massive war on drugs."

Nevada isn't the only place where conservatives are taking a stand on the issue. Writing for Philadelphia's City Paper, Brian Hickey reports that Libertarian James Babb is using legalization as a platform in his campaign to become a state representative for the 157th District. A key element of his proposal is a position outlined by the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP): It is simply time to try a new tack, since decades of "war" have clearly not resolved illegal drug use.

LEAP started with five members in 2002 and has grown to more than 5,000 police officers, judges, corrections officers, and prosecutors nationally. Jack Cole, LEAP's executive director and a former undercover narcotics investigator for the New Jersey State Police, theorizes, "If we ended drug prohibition today, tomorrow all the drug lords, terrorists, and street dealers would be out of business. If they're not in business, they're not out in the streets, and if they're not out in the streets, they're not shooting each other to protect their market share, catching innocent people and children in the crossfire." What's more, LEAP contends, legalization could mean better relations between the people and the police. One of the primary goals outlined on LEAP's website is "to restore the public's respect for law enforcement, which has been greatly diminished by its involvement in imposing drug prohibition."

While the Nevada initiative may not pass -- early polls put 56 percent of voters against the measure -- we may see variations on it in the future. With these new cheerleaders, the argument against war and for informed compromise may gain traction.


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