Tuesday night figures to be a good one for Republicans. But will it be a good night for liberty and conservatism?
That will depend on whether the victorious Republicans decide to apply their limited-government rhetoric to issues beyond taxes, spending, regulations and Obamacare.
Those policies are vitally important, but not the only things you need to get right to have a free society.
Consider Colorado. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Republican challenger Bob Beauprez leading incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper by 5 points. (Some other polls have the race closer.)
A Republican victory in a swing state where Democrats have been pulling out all the stops would be a major coup for the GOP. But Beauprez has periodically made noises suggesting it could be a mixed bag on the liberty front.
Asked whether Colorado should repeal its law permitting the recreational use of marijuana, passed by the voters in 2012, Beauprez replied, “Yes, I think we’re at that point.”
The Republican gubernatorial candidate elaborated that “we’re at that point where the consequences that we’ve already discovered from this may be far greater than the liberty, I guess, that the citizens thought they were embracing.”
Heaven forfend we have too much liberty!
Beauprez has elsewhere suggested he wouldn’t work to repeal marijuana legalization. “I was not in favor of the legalization of marijuana, but as governor I will ensure that Colorado implements the law as safely and as responsibly as possible,” he told the Coloradan. “Our primary concern should be to keep it out of the hands of our kids and to make sure law enforcement has the tools they need to successfully deal with the law.”
Like legal alcohol, minors are not allowed to purchase legal marijuana. Police sting operations have found no legally sanctioned marijuana shops violating the law by trying to sell it to them.
Yet Beauprez’s comments about legal marijuana, both recreational and medical, have been overwhelmingly negative. Here was his take on medical marijuana use in Colorado.
“Well, I think anybody who’s just a little bit objective about this understands that it’s being abused right now,” he said. “It’s being abused intentionally, and it’s being abused at the risk of a whole lot of people in our society.”
Beauprez admitted he “didn’t like” the state’s medical marijuana laws. “But it is the law, and I’ll take an oath to uphold the law and enforce the law,” he continued, “but what we have to do is regulate it as tightly as we can within the law and the understanding of the law.”
Hickenlooper, who is generally a big-government guy, also didn’t like marijuana legalization before the voters passed it. He has also advocated tighter regulation of medical marijuana. But he has at least dismissed re-criminalization as “premature” and conceded that things have not turned out as badly as he expected.
In fact, Colorado’s experiment with marijuana legalization is widely viewed as a success. Virtually all of the harmful side effects some have claimed come from data that predates legal retail marijuana sales or captures only a short time period of legalization.
But even if you don’t like the policy, it has been implemented in a conservative way. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to drug policy, Colorado’s legalization employs federalism. The legalization has happened in only one state and other states can reach their own conclusions about the results.
Colorado’s legalization has also been gradual. The new marijuana industry is regulated. Opponents of legalization played a constructive role in crafting the regulations. There wasn’t a sudden pot free-for-all. This allows marijuana policy to be set according to real experience, not just ideology.
Republicans shouldn’t cede attempts to find state-based, federalist alternatives to the failed drug war to the Democrats.
Big government taxes, spends and regulates too much, all things conservative Republicans are right to fight. Well-meaning social legislation frequently diminishes freedom and hurts the very people it was intended to help.
This applies to drug laws too. Just as big government taxes and spends, it also puts people in cages for having medical problems or the wrong preference in intoxicants that don’t hurt innocent third parties.