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Conservatives only listen to economists, even conservative economists, when it suits their ideology. In Canada, the Conservatives oppose legalization and are introducing harsher sentences for existing laws, while the NDP and Liberals support decriminalization.

Tyronen - this is where I think the Green party has an opportunity to make significant inroads into the Conservative base, with pro-upper-middle-class-traditional-family policies such as income splitting (estimated cost $5.6 billion) together with more libertarian policies such as marijuana legalization (estimated revenue gains, $1.5 billion). See the green party platform .

Don't think it'll matter in the least if the Greens adopt the policy recommendations of those notorious liberals Milton Friedman (legalizing marijuana) and Greg Mankiw (carbon tax). They're still a bunch of dirty hippies (I say this as a dirty hippie who has voted Green every time the opportunity presented itself).

Maybe I'm too cynical but it seems to me that people mostly vote for Team Conservative/NDP/whatever. Coherent policy is optional. It's more about branding and image. People want to cheer for a winning team, follow the alpha dog, get paid, stick-it to the man, bully the weak to puff-up their egos, etc ... Its the school yard all over again.

(In caveman voice) Criminals bad! Super jets good! Taxes bad! Me love hockey!

Frances: Thanks for highlighting some FI research ;) Anecdotally, from the small scale growers that I know, they tend to favor decriminalization over legalization.

tyronen: "Conservative" is a broad term, as is "conservative economist". Social conservatives tend to be against marijuana legalization, whereas more libertarian types are in favor of legalization. And the current gov't doesn't seem to listen to libertarians or fiscal conservatives much, e.g., reducing the GST over other taxes, proliferation of boutique tax credits, increasing gov't spending, etc.

Joel W: "Anecdotally, from the small scale growers that I know, they tend to favor decriminalization over legalization."

Always good to see self-interest in action!

The Canadian Community Health Survey has quite a bit of data on marijuana consumption - it would be interesting use it to update Steve's study.

Are there many socially conservative non-libertarian economists? I don't personally know any, but there may be some sample selection bias here.

Patrick - why vote based on election platforms if you can't trust politicians to follow through on their promises?


Frances: "The people who should be fighting legalization are the small scale growers: little family-run organic pot farms wouldn't stand a chance against industrial scale agri-business."

Couldn't agree with you more. If they legalized pot, hippy-dippy growers and various criminal organizations would be forced under. I can see it now, Anheuser-Busch could grow Bud Bud (and Bud Bud Light).

Tyronen: "Conservatives only listen to economists, even conservative economists, when it suits their ideology."

I hate to break it to you, politicians of any stripe only listen to economists (or any other variety of expert) when it suits their ideology. Conservatives probably listen to economists more than lefties do - although that may be more of a comment on left-wing ideology.

Frances: Doesn't matter for my point (which I'm apparently not making very well). I'm really just gripping about incoherent policy. The right *should* want to legalize marijuana, but they don't and won't because it's inconsistent with their branding. Their image of themselves, and their marketing message, make the philosophical and intellectual underpinnings of the party irrelevant.

"The right *should* want to legalize marijuana"

I think Joel's point is that we have to be careful about talking about the "right" or "conservatives" as an amorphous bunch. In practice in Canada (and the US - although it's breaking down these days) the "right" consists of a broad coalition of social conservatives, libertarians, "business" liberals and anti-communists (this latter group was more significant in the US which is how many of the "neo-liberals" ended up in the conservative camp).

The libertarians and, arguably, the business liberals (although they might also be indifferent) should want to to legalize marijuana - and when you speak to them, they generally do. The social conservatives shouldn't (at least from their perspective). If the Canadian Conservatives aren't pursuing marijuana legalization, that has less to do with branding, and more to do with the compromises inherent in a big tent party. I.e., the social conservatives get a win on marijuana, the libertarians get a win on gay marriage (although personally, I think that's a win for social conservatives too, they just don't know it), and the business liberals get a win on corporate tax cuts.

And, of course, there's the practical point that if political party platforms are not ideologically consistent it reflects the reality that neither are voters. Thats why ideology driven parties can't get elected dog catcher in Canada.

I am certain there is a really good reason for your repeated references to 'conservative' economists and 'right-leaning' economists. I am probably being daft here but I am very curious about why you use that qualifier so conspicuously.

Although my sample size is small and potentially biased, all economists I know, regardless of political persuasions, support taxation over criminalization.

"The people who should be fighting legalization are the small scale growers: little family-run organic pot farms wouldn't stand a chance against industrial scale agri-business."

I don't know about this. The overlap between middle-class people who smoke weed and people who go to farmers markets has to be pretty high. With a lot of cachet given to small-scale "boutique" producers, I'd guess that legalized pot production would span the full spectrum from (the equivalents) of Annheuser-Busch through micro- and home-brew.

Legalized MJ would end up like legalized alcohol: a few big producers of dog p@@ for the masses and some boutique producers for the bobos and the higher-ups.

Social conservatives are the useful idiots of the business class.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_idiot

As Nancy Reagan said to one of her aides when a group of pro-life militants asked to see her :" F"/$' em!..."

I was pretty sure I had read a report a while back on polling done, and no matter which side of the political spectrum you were on support for legalization was in the 60%+ range. I wonder why it hasn't happened yet.

Patrick: "The right *should* want to legalize marijuana, but they don't and won't because it's inconsistent with their branding."

I hear what you're saying - I think the only answer is that Conservative doesn't mean what it used to mean, just like today's liberalism is very different from the liberalism of the 19th century.

Bob - yup.

primedprimate - Two reasons. First, it's not obvious to me that lefty economists *are* in fact uniformly pro-marijuana legalization. When I looked at the list of economists endorsing marijuana legalization, I did see the names of some lefty folks I know, but the best known economists advocating legalization are people more on the right, like Steve Easton. Second, yet another analysis of the economics of marijuana legalization would have been boring. Explaining why more right-leaning economists favour the policy gives it a tiny bit of a novel spin. Perhaps.

Evan - To some extent, yes. I'd lay money that the farmer I buy from at the local farmer's market would be planting plants at the first opportunity, and work out some way of getting government subsidies for doing so, too! However planting a little field of hemp, harvesting it, and selling it at the farmer's market for cash would be tax evasion. The desire to tax marijuana and control its distribution would be the thing that would squeeze out small growers.

Traciatim: "I wonder why it hasn't happened yet."

There was an absolutely wonderful edition of the Colbert Report doneshortly after he founded his Super-Pac. He asked people to donate, and say which issues they thought were important. He then came up with two of those word pictures - you know the ones where words that are mentioned more frequently are in bigger letters.

He did one just based on how often words are mentioned - marijuana was right front and centre in huge letters.

Then he did it again, with the words weighted by the number of dollars people had donated to Colbert Super-Pac. Marijuana shrunk dramatically, and the issue that was front in centre was taxes.

I hear what you're saying - I think the only answer is that Conservative doesn't mean what it used to mean, just like today's liberalism is very different from the liberalism of the 19th century.

There is also the fact that aside from party branding, the political scene in Canada is different from the US in a number of ways and importing US analytical ideas is not useful or illuminating. In Canada the Christian Right has historically been very weak and still is. There is also the fact that in Quebec what may be called the "Christian Right" or "Social conservatives" was embodied by the Union Nationale and while it had its day in the sun, it was decisively rejected during the Quiet Revolution.

Now the Christian Right his hitched to the Tories and are "useful idiots", as Jacques said. They couldn't even stop the "Same-Sex Divorce" issue a few months ago, which shows you how weak they really are.

On the other hand, the NDP is the Christian Left and has a long history with the Baptist Conventions and the United Church. The CCF came from the Social Gospel Movement, it was the political manifestation of a Leftist church movement. The NDP's record is extensive and thus the Christian Left has had more influence and time in power in Canada than the Christian Right has.

I also wonder about framing effects. MJ is illegal, we have special police teams to bust growers with significant budgets, helicopters. It is Law and Order personified. Who doesn't get a kick out of seeing a grow-op busted? People want to see the police in action and drug enforcement facilitates that. What happens if all those cops have to turn to fraud enforcement or other less action-oriented things if we legalize pot?

Milton Friedman & other economists of his stripe are classical liberals and libertarians.

They do _not_ lean "right" , i.e. toward Hitler or the KKK, and hey are no conservatives, i.e. they aren't followers of Jerry Falwell and they arent't supporters of crony capitalism advanced by the business lobbies and the GOP country club set.

The Left invented these terms to smear Friedman et al as racists and corporate stooges.

It was a lie hen, and it isn't less of a lie to continue this abuse of language now.

I don't know enough about the field so I was wondering if there is much literature by economists who support criminalization. Based on your reading of such literature, do economists who support criminalization lean left usually? Or is it just that this issue does not elicit much passion from lefty economists?

This might be a good poll for WCI - I'd love to know where readers stand on the left-right spectrum and if there is any correlation between ideological affiliation and opinion on marjuana taxation. Perhaps you could throw in age too...

"no matter which side of the political spectrum you were on support for legalization was in the 60%+ range"

I believe that, but the issue isn't so much about whether you support a policy or not, but whether you really care about a policy. I may support legalizing marijuana on principled and practical grounds, but I can fairly say that I don't make my voting decisions based on marijuana legalization. I suspect most Canadians, whether they support legalization or not, share that view. Political parties do respond to the popularity of policies, but they're also sensitive to the intensity of support for policies.

"compromises inherent in a big tent party."

I'll grant that it's part of the story. Maybe it's just that I see myself as outside the tent, with the cognitive bias that implies, that it seems to me that the right has become totally incoherent. At least the 'scary' Reform party made some kind of sense (even if I disagreed). They all seem to agree that they are fiscal conservatives ... except when it comes to toys for the boys, paying to jail everyone in sight for every minor offense, reducing the long term economic prospects of unemployed fellow citizens (and hence their freedom) etc. I'm amazed that they are able to resolve the cognitive dissonance that they ought to be inducing in themselves. My guess is that they just don't live examined lives - at least not as I understand it. It's like they are just checking off items on a list without thinking about the implication of each item: Sticking it to the unemployed? Check. Fiscal conservative! Jailing children? Check. Tough on crime!

Greg - linking anyone to Hitler or the KKK is not appropriate on this blog.

There is a valid point to be made that the original meaning of "right" stemming from the French revolution applied to those who support social hierarchy, therefore libertarians cannot properly be called right wing. However in common parlance I think it's generally accepted that Republicans are right and Democrats are left, hence Milton Friedman, by virtue of being an advisor to Reagan, can be considered right wing.

primedprimate: " I was wondering if there is much literature by economists who support criminalization" I don't know of any - or at least any who admit it - however this survey of American Economic Association members found a fairly high level of support for criminalization of "hard" drugs. Though it is perfectly possible to favour marijuana legalization and also support criminalization of crystal meth.

I think the argument extends to all illegal drugs. Criminalizing THC has widespread small consequences--lots of petty arrests and charges, kids going to court, congested legal services, etc. Criminalizing the big drugs additionally imposes the widespread horrors of organized crime, gang violence, prostitution rings, and places like Ciudad Juarez (which is an outcome of THC criminalization too). If the state were rational, free of agency problems, and not incentivized by the expansion of power, the war on drugs would be dropped instantly. We only have it because it creates a power base and lots of fake jobs.

"Maybe it's just that I see myself as outside the tent, with the cognitive bias that implies, that it seems to me that the right has become totally incoherent."

Perhaps, but ideological or policy incoherence is to be expected in a "big tent" party. Think a party that consists of union members and environmentalists is ideologically coherent? Hard to explain a party that campaigns on both reducing carbon emissions and reducing taxes on energy. And what about a party that believes in a strong central government, except in Quebec? But the NDP has done quite well in the past few elections by embracing those inconsistencies. Certainly, the old Liberal party couldn't be accused of ideological consistency - remember "Zap, You're frozen!" or Jean Chretien's promise to replace the GST and tear-up NAFTA? Yet they were indisputably the most successful political party in the western world in the 20th century. The Reform party or the old NDP may have been ideologically coherent, but they also couldn't get elected dog catcher outside of their core bases.

What's the line about consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds? There's a reason that successful (and good) political leaders don't feel to bound by it.

@Ma'am
Read your post and was reminded of Bill Hicks take on this issue.

I'd say that the fact that there are externalities in marijuana use (in countries where the state is involved in healthcare i.e. just about everywhere) is the best single argument for legalisation. Smokers and drinkers may dip into the taxed money of others when they have health problems, but they more than make up for that through paying duties. Pot users should have the same burden.

I agree that conservative economists are very much influenced by economic theory in this regard. Once the principle of capitalist acts between consenting adults in accepted, then a lot of thought-patterns that we all have to some degree (that visceral worry when one even contemplates legalising heroin) become threatened.

Thank you for the excellent article reference, Frances. The article does indeed suggest that the surveyed economists on average lie somewhere between mildy supporting and having mixed feelings on controls for hard drugs. As you rightly point out, the responses might have been different for marijuana and moreover, I think having controls for drugs may be quite distinct from criminalization. For instance, would an age restriction count as a control?

Also, based on the sample surveyed, it appears that there may not be a significant divide between democrat and republican economists on this issue.

W. Peden: ". Once the principle of capitalist acts between consenting adults in accepted, then a lot of thought-patterns that we all have to some degree (that visceral worry when one even contemplates legalising heroin) become threatened."

Or does the causality run in the other direction ;)

Primedprimate - thanks, I came across it through Chris Auld's blog, which unfortunately he seems to have given up on.

Social conservatives may not have won the gay divorce issue but they are currently successful in blackmailinig the National Sciences Museum
Libertarians,whatever they say, are on the right. They despise the rable ,which they view as inferior beings, and welcome an autoritarian state that will put the masses in their place while the übermensch enjoy their natural superiority. That's the crux of Ayn Rand's thinking, such as it is. A prominent Québec libertarian, who think of himself as a somewhat unrecognized economic genius instead of the hack he is, objected to the firearms register questions about spousal violence or mental health on the grounds that his violen tendancies are no one's business because he has the right to be violent.
A good lot of them are megalomaniac schizoids, a state not to be confused with a philosophical argumentation.

"They despise the rable,which they view as inferior beings"

Which would distinguish them from the far left only in terms of the language they use to express their contempt for the rabble.

And Jacques, I believe the proper expression is "genderlesspersonofnocolouring the National Sciences Museum"

I recall how the Libs recently mentioned that they might debate decriminalization as part of their platform, and were much mocked for it, though I think that was more of a timing issue.

The question is not what voters support or oppose it, but what kinds of swing voters a party can bring in thanks to the policy, without forcing out too many others from the tent (recognizing then there is a calculus to ticking off some supporters). It is an issue of what kinds of coalitions form around the policies and the ranking of importance of those policies. In that light I find it hard to see what party will gain anything from this. Are libertarians going to swing from one party to another based on MJ alone, when there are bigger policy items on the menu like free trade, welfare state expansion/contraction, tax reform, etc? Are lefties going to switch between the Libs and the NDP because of MJ, when there is global warming? Are the Harper Hate-on League Tables not a bigger swinger of votes?

I see this more as a policy than can be used for signalling to whip up the base--specifically for the NDP, the Greens, or the almighty Libertarian Party of Canada. For the rest of the voters this is like advocating daycare for dogs.

Bob: I just knew you'd go down the 'yeah, but *yo'* mamma sooo' route. I'm not going there. I think the lefties around this blog have been brutally honest about the shortcomings of the left of center parties in Canada. I don't see the same coming from the right. IMO much of the right has gone quite nuts. Period. The only reason I see for otherwise reasonable small-c conservatives to support them is that they happen to be on a winning streak. The analogy on the left would be a Martin Liberal supporting the Communists. The state of affairs is *totally* bizarre.

Shangwen: "I see this more as a policy than can be used for signalling to whip up the base" -

Though unfortunately the most enthusiastic supports of decriminalization/legalization may be in such a mellow state that whipping them up may be a challenge!

I suspect that this is an issue, like gay marriage, that divides along the lines of age. Most people over the age of 65 have never tried marijuana. A substantial proportion of people under the age of 65 have. The Conservative party won't touch decriminalization because they - with pension income splitting, a tough on crime agenda, etc - are making themselves into the party of older Canadians.

It's interesting that the Greens, who draw less heavily from the older demographic than other parties, are the one that's most strongly pro-legalization.

Eric Hoffer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hoffer

in The true believer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer

showed how the extrem left and the extreme right are essentially the same.

Or in the words of Goering (sorry Frances, I had to do it):" Give me a communist and in three days I will make him one of us. The only thing I can do with a social-democrat is to shoot him".
Ernst Torgler, head of the KPD , who was arrested after the Reichstag fire, ended up a SS officer.

As Patrick says, what is incomprehensible is how ordinary conservatives are supporting revolutionnaries who behave in a trotskyite manner. Though they did it in 1933.

@Frances I agree re: mellowness. I'm trying to imagine what all those people would do on April 20th. Go to work? Only if they have jobs in bicycle shops.

I suspect the non-success of libertarianism as a voting bloc is partly driven by the fact that, as a somewhat geeky political philosophy, you really have to be prepared to let stand or even defend things that may be personally distasteful to you--the antithesis of most ordinary folks' gut politics. I detest being around people who are high or drunk, but I still oppose criminalizing or regulating the use of drugs and alcohol. The Bill Maher and Woody Harrelson types--who mostly want to free up coke and prostitution so they can get a lot more of them hassle-free--are really much more in line with ordinary intuitive libertarianism: you want freedom for the people and things that you like.

Patrick: I'm not sure why you took my response to Jacque as a "yo mamma" response. I wasn't sure how contempt for the rabble was a unique characteristic of the "right" - in fact, it isn't, since it's one shared by elements of the "left". Are Libertarians on the "right" merely because their contempt for the "rabble" is informed by something other than Gramscian concepts of hegemony? That's an odd form of political taxonomy.

Moreover, a great deal of right-wing policies (at least in Canada and North America) are premised not on contempt for the "rabble" but on a healthy respect for their views - in contradistinction to the view of the "elite". There are lots of fair criticism of the Tory crime legislation, for example, but that's legislation which takes seriously the concerns and perceptions of the "rabble". Indeed, one of the big changes in Canadian politics over the past 30 years, has been that Canadian conservative parties (certainly west of the Ottawa river) have shifted away from an elite-driven paternalistic conservatism (represented by the old school red tories) and adopted a "populist" form of conservatism. (John Ibbitson had a couple of books on this evolution in Ontario after the Harris Tories came to power). In the process, the Tories have displaced the NDP from its traditional role as a populist party (which is why the NDP doesn't have any seats in Saskatchewan and why the Tories win Oshawa).

"The only reason I see for otherwise reasonable small-c conservatives to support them is that they happen to be on a winning streak."

The problem is you're think as if there is a representative "small-c" conservative. But as I noted earlier, there isn't. The conservatives are a not a homogenous mass of "small-c" conservatives, they're a coalition of of groups who may not have much in common with one another, but have even less in common with the groups that make up other political parties. Dissatisfied "conservatives" support the Tories because they still like them better than the NDP and the Liberals (note to the NDP and the Liberals - if you stop characterizing tory supporters as mouth-breathing, gun-toting, know-nothing, bigots, they might vote for you).

Moreover, if you don't hear people on the right discussing the shortcomings of the current Conservative government it could be because you're just not listening. The pro-life types are pissed because they don't think the Tories are taking them seriously (and they're right), the fiscal conservatives are pissed because they don't think the Tories are slashing and burning fast enough (read Gerry Nichols in the Hill Times talk about Stephen Harper, his former colleague at the NCC). The populist democratic reform types are pissed because the Tories have been every bit as badly behaved as their predecessors in that area (if not worse). But the coalition gives each of its elements just enough that they figure they're still further ahead than jumping to the grits or the NDP. That's the nature of big tent politics.

"ordinary conservatives are supporting revolutionnaries who behave in a trotskyite manner"

Exagerate much? Though it's good to see that Godwin's law has, once again, been empirically verified.

Shangwen, I think the non-success of libertarians as voting block, at least in Canada, is a function of the fact that you could probably pack the entire population of Canadian libertarians into your average small-town hockey arena. What's remarkable isn't so much their lack of success, as that they've had the success they've had given the absence of any real voting block.

Bob: I was referring to your 12:20 post.

"... it could be because you're just not listening"

That might well be it. From my own point of view, those policy preferences are all so nuts that they don't bear thinking about. It's odd ... most of my life I've self-identified as left of center, but the more I think about it, the more I think I'm really a small-c conservative. I don't want any radical change to women's rights. I want to *conserve* (isn't that what conservatives do?) the environment. I don't want radical economic policies; plain old textbook macro will do, thank you. No big changes to the constitution; I like the one we've got. The existing social safety net is just fine by me. etc.


Patrick - still not seeing it. The observation that politicians only listen to experts they agree strikes as a truism.

"I don't want any radical change to women's rights. I want to *conserve* (isn't that what conservatives do?) the environment. I don't want radical economic policies; plain old textbook macro will do, thank you. No big changes to the constitution; I like the one we've got. The existing social safety net is just fine by me. etc."

Hey, fair enough, but then I don't quite get why you identify the "right" (or at least the Canadian right) as having "gone nuts" (the US right, I'll concede the point, they're crazy, and working their way to electoral oblivion). You just described the platform, and the actual practice in office, of the Conservative Party of Canada (sure, it might only pay lip service to the environment - then again, that would be true of every government we've had since Mulroney). To be sure, the Tories have their nutbags, but so long as a coalition of conflicting nutbags, they tend to cancel out into reasonable compromise.


Frances, this topic is a minor variation of the "why do we need prescriptions?" post from the other day.

The assumption, as you succinctly state is: "A complete ban is not justified as long as the pleasure marijuana brings to users outweighs the harms it causes others."

But this rests on the underlying assumption that there is no market failure and the consumer is perfectly informed. Shift towards another drug that is legal and reframe the reference point: considering what is well known about cigarettes - and I'm speaking about the carcinogenic mass-produced variety, not the home-grown tobacco rolls - why would anybody start smoking? Once they have started I fully understand the revised prefernce curve to continue, but why start in the first place?

As a potential pusher / producer I can fully understand why I would want to get other people addicted to my product, but what rational reason convinces my consumer take the first hit? (And feel free to substitute any other addictive product.)

Now from a libertarian perspective, is it acceptable to exploit people in weakness or should laws protect people from mistakes? (I would argue that laws are required to protect against mistakes such as leaving your property vulnerable to theft, which it is by definition every time it is stolen, or signing contracts when mentally incapacitated.)

The "tough-on-crime" conservative approach is a revealed preference to minimize exploitation (hence the apparent contradiction in penalizing drugs).

Maybe this is off base, but I've always thought that the reason Canadian governments don't move towards legalization is because of how incredibly unpopular such a policy would be with our drug-law loving neighbours to the south. While there may also now be other dynamics at work here - the Conservative love of tough-on-crime laws, e.g. - I also think that a Canadian government would need to be sensitive to the public policy orientation of the US government.

Also, there is the jurisdictional variation problem. If marijuana is legal and controlled here, but criminal in the US, what population will be attracted to Canada? What about dealing with smuggling? And I can see that being even worse with 'harder' drugs. It may be nice to be Delaware and attract corporations to your legal system, but I'm not so sure it would be nice to attract the drug growing/selling/using community from the US.

I hasten to add that I am generally in the legalize camp, but just that I think these issues both are important and should be important in thinking about the appropriate legal response.

Alice - thanks for the comments - do you think there are any federal/provincial issues here? E.g. alcohol is typically regulated/taxed provincially, I don't see why marijuana would be different.

Peter - "Now from a libertarian perspective, is it acceptable to exploit people in weakness or should laws protect people from mistakes?"

The addiction argument is an important one, and is a reason to make tobacco and other highly addictive drugs illegal, but doesn't carry over to marijuana - it's just not that addictive. Much less so than tobacco.

I think the libertarian perspective, however, is that people are generally strong and don't make a lot of mistakes.

Once we start banning goods because they're harmful and people can be exploited, where do we stop? Coke? Baby formula? SUVs? Guns?

Alice, you are right on the first point: at past times when the feds have floated the idea of legalization, the US has been very clear that it would make relations more difficult. Even the "Canada is cool" cover story on the Economist many years back did not change that. Of course, that was before 9/11 and the big hate-on for Canadians as manufacturers of terrorists.

Frances, the libertarian perspective straight from the horse's mouth is not that people are strong and don't make mistakes. It's that people should be free to learn from their mistakes and usually can, and that a society with fewer restrictions is one where there is more open information and hence perhaps one where it is easier to foresee consequences. That last bit may contain some of the excessive optimism about humans for which libertarians are mocked, but it is better on balance than the optimism that a group of remote experts can decide what is good for people, or the optimism that governments have no incentive but the "public interest".

At any time of day in many parts of this country, anyone 18 or over is free to walk into a casino and lose all their savings, ruin their family, lose their jobs, or develop a compulsive habit of doing so. Yet few do, despite high-salience stories. Tobacco is regulated, but there is no law about who can smoke, and no police force going around putting out cigarettes, yet smoking continues its historic decline because of the known health effects and a change in its social signal. Is everyone who doesn't destroy themselves at the casino a Randian superman? Is every non-smoker a graduate of the Shaolin Temple? No, these are ordinary people freely making very ordinary self-interested choices, which turn out to also be good choices. (PS, I detest Ayn Rand.) If MJ were legalized, I likewise doubt there would be a massive increase in its use.

Peter,

"I would argue that laws are required to protect against mistakes such as leaving your property vulnerable to theft, which it is by definition every time it is stolen, or signing contracts when mentally incapacitated"

Is having property vulnerable to theft necessarily a mistake? If an army of Klingons steals my watch, does this constitute a mistake on my part in any sense? The protection against theft, from a libertarian perspective, is presumably based on the state's role as the guardian of property rights, rather than an instance where libertarians tolerate the "nanny state" protecting citizens against their mistakes.

As for the signing contracts when mentally incapacitated: I think there's an important legal distinction between actions (mistaken or not) by the mentally incapacitated and mistakes by the non-mentally incapaciatated.

There ARE definite cases where the state needs to prevent marijuana use e.g. by children, just as we do with extremely dangerous and addictive drugs like tobacco and alcohol.

Alice - thanks for the comments - do you think there are any federal/provincial issues here? E.g. alcohol is typically regulated/taxed provincially, I don't see why marijuana would be different.

Peter - "Now from a libertarian perspective, is it acceptable to exploit people in weakness or should laws protect people from mistakes?"

The addiction argument is an important one, and is a reason to make tobacco and other highly addictive drugs illegal, but doesn't carry over to marijuana - it's just not that addictive. Much less so than tobacco.

I think the libertarian perspective, however, is that people are generally strong and don't make a lot of mistakes.

Once we start banning goods because they're harmful and people can be exploited, where do we stop? Coke? Baby formula? SUVs? Guns?

First, why wonder at the effect legalization would have on our relations with the US? We had a case study on that, Prohibition 1919-1933. BC and Quebec went for full legalization by 1921 (Quebec had Prohibition for a year, I can't even fathom they stood for it that long) and Ontario did not prohibit brewing/distilling for export. We turned into Source #1 for the US.

On the subject of the Constitution, the drug laws fall under the Residual Power (all things not given to the provinces are given to the Federal Government) http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/371/ille/library/drugs-e.htm

Funny that, I thought the Residual Power wasn't used much.

You could also make a case that it is criminal law, though in practice it isn't classic criminal law. Under the Constitution, the provinces are responsible for law enforcement including Crown Attorneys. But drug offences are prosecuted by Federal prosecutors, not provincial Crowns in recognition of the special status of the drug laws.

Growing marijuana is agriculture, in which the Federal Government and provinces have concurrent jurisdiction though Federal legislation comes first.

Selling it may be a local matter, but there could be a federal role (i.e. federal mandate for graphic tobacco warnings on packs) or it could be Federal because of its history.

"conservative economists..."

There's no such thing as a conservative economist, in fact 'conservative economist' is an oxymoron since all economists are radicals. You probably meant libertarian economists, although even this is unnecessary, you could have just said 'economists'.

The reason marijuana is illegal is because of tradition (i.e. it always has been illegal). So conservatives support maintaining tradition, while radicals (including economists) support legalization.

"The people who should be fighting legalization are the small scale growers"

If legalization is good for society, then nobody should oppose it. But you're an economist so you support the radical notion, opposed by conservatives, of only self-interest being a consideration in decision making... :)

The libertarians and, arguably, the business liberals (although they might also be indifferent) should want to to legalize marijuana - and when you speak to them, they generally do. The social conservatives shouldn't (at least from their perspective). If the Canadian Conservatives aren't pursuing marijuana legalization, that has less to do with branding, and more to do with the compromises inherent in a big tent party. I.e., the social conservatives get a win on marijuana, the libertarians get a win on gay marriage (although personally, I think that's a win for social conservatives too, they just don't know it), and the business liberals get a win on corporate tax cuts.

The Gay Marriage debate had nothing to do with Libertarians in Canada. It had everything to do with every political group except the Social Conservatives. In English Canada, the debate focused on the churches, actually. The mainline Protestant churches have debated changes to their positions on sexuality since the 1980's. The United Church allowed LGBT clergy in 1988, the Lutherans just did the same and the Anglicans are split on the issue but leaning in favour.

Metropolitan Community Church reached the threshold to perform marriages by banns instead of by license and did so. But there were a significant number of United Church congregations ready to follow in their footsteps. The United Church spoke in favour of the Civil Marriage Act. The Libertarians were a non-factor.

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