By Ryan McNeely
Last night on the Fox Business Network, Sarah Palin sounded extremely reasonable when she called marijuana a “minimal problem” facing the country. So can we count her as among the supporters of the increasing number of marijuana decriminalization laws around the country? Unfortunately, no:
“If we’re talking about pot, I’m not for the legalization of pot,” Palin said. “I think that would just encourage our young people to think that it was OK to go ahead and use it.”
“However I think we need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts,” Palin added. “If somebody’s gonna to smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems we have in society.”
First, study after study has shown that decriminalization would not lead to increased usage. Now, there are significant differences between limited decriminalization and outright legalization; as Matthew has written previously, there’s “a broad range of options between the status quo and a true libertarian approach” to our drug policy.
But what I think what we’re seeing here is the wrong-headed notion that an appropriate way to express disapproval of a behavior is to simply make it illegal but then wink and nod on enforcement, as if this is some sort of middle ground (this is also the Obama administration position on federal marijuana law). Another good example of this phenomenon is abortion rights. Gallup finds that an increasing number of people identify as “pro-life,” but start asking if women or doctors should go to prison – i.e., that an anti-abortion law should be enforced – and they immediately start hedging on their support for such laws.
If you don’t think a law should be enforced, you should support repeal of the law. All this “compromise” accomplishes is granting police almost unfettered discretion. If smoking pot is still technically illegal, police can enforce the law when they choose, targeting certain people for arrest while turning a blind eye to others engaging in the exact same activity. If you don’t want children to smoke pot, start a public awareness campaign and encourage parents to discuss drug use with their kids. Don’t keep marijuana use illegal in a confused attempt to conflate moral objection with criminal sanction.