In the early days of the state-level movement to legalize marijuana, we often got opposition from a surprising camp – libertarians.
You would think libertarians would be thrilled with laws rolling back cannabis prohibition, but for many, it wasn’t enough. Skeptical libertarians found a myriad of reasons to oppose legalization efforts, saying they “didn’t go far enough.”
The movement started in the early 1970s and really started to grow with the legalization of medical marijuana in California way back in 1996. Opponents protested, “what about everybody else?”
Some libertarians also opposed medical marijuana on principle, saying people shouldn’t need a state-issued “card” to access cannabis. They’re not wrong theoretically. Asking the government for permission is never desirable. But the fact is virtually all of these people carry a card so they can drive.
As the legalization movement grew and states started allowing recreational marijuana, libertarians often complained about the tax and regulatory schemes attached to cannabis legalization bills and used this as a reason to oppose reforms. Of course, you never heard any of these people arguing that it would be better for alcohol to be illegal rather than heavily taxed and regulated, as it is in most states.
Another common objection was that legalizing marijuana doesn’t help people who have already been convicted of marijuana crimes. Having a criminal record has lifelong consequences and millions of people have to go through life with this legal millstone tied around their necks simply because at some point they possessed or sold a plant. What about these people? Again, they would actively oppose legalization bills on this basis.
But think about the implied logic. We’re going to allow more people to get caught in this legal web because this bill doesn’t address the needs of people already caught in this legal web. Sounds self-defeating, doesn’t it?
In reality, all of these are legitimate concerns. These libertarian opponents were generally right about the problems inherent in most legalization schemes. They were good on the philosophy. But opposing legalization efforts because they “aren’t good enough” is a bad strategy.
Consider this: would a starving man turn down a slice of bread because it wasn’t a whole loaf?
Let’s be honest here. Today, we’re starving for liberty at every turn.
Sometimes you have to take what you get so you have the ability to move forward. If the man gets a slice of bread, he’ll have the energy to go for that loaf.
The same principle applies to legislative activism. Small steps forward often lead to more steps forward.
Thomas Jefferson understood this well. In fact, in a 1790 letter to the Rev. Charles Clay Jefferson said liberty is to be gained by inches.