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Palin Shows That Perhaps Hope for Liberty Not Dead Yet in GOP

by Josh Guckert

In an interview on Thursday with conservative Hugh Hewitt, 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin was asked about marijuana policy in her home state of Alaska. Hewitt asked about the successful marijuana initiative that passed last year, asking in a brazen tone, “What happened in Alaska? What are you people thinking there?”

In a pleasant surprise, Palin refused to take the bait and did not indulge the prohibitionist fear-mongering employed by Hewitt. Palin instead said “We’ve got that libertarian streak in us, and I grew up in Alaska when pot was legal anyway. It was absolutely no big deal.” While she went on to explain that families and communities helped to avoid drug usage, she suggested that there are much more important issues for governments to worry about.

As Palin stated, beginning around the late 1970s, possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized and eventually fully legalized. It was not until 1990 that Alaska voted again to criminalize possession. As Jacob Sullum for Reason points out, the 2014 referendum went even further than what had been the law prior to 1990, as it  also legalized “home cultivation along with commercial production and sales.”

Despite her disappearance from electoral politics since the 2008 election, Palin does still remain a significant figure in the Tea Party and grassroots conservative movements. The fact that she would be willing to stand up against the alarmism of the big-government drug war forces that have had a home in the party for over thirty years shows that perhaps the debate is shifting within the GOP.

The most interesting detail about her statement, however, is that she doesn’t explicitly endorse the concepts of legalization or decriminalization. On its face, this may seem like a loss for the libertarian side in the debate. However, what Palin is instead targeting is the ridiculously apocalyptic rhetoric that has engulfed the Republican Party. While there is no good reason to be in favor of prohibition, the arguments that have emerged seem to get simply sillier. Though many now (rightfully) view public service announcements like “Reefer Madness” as if they were parodies, some on the authoritarian right seem to employ the same tactics.

This all occurs as the national dialogue on marijuana has drastically changed over the last few years. While those in favor of draconian drug policies once experienced much success at the ballot boxes, support has now shifted in favor of marijuana legalization.

It points toward the fact that not only must the Republican Party alter its viewpoint in order to remain consistent with liberty, it also must do so to survive as an equal competitor with the Democratic Party. Not many issues like these present themselves, but marijuana is a potential game-changer. As the GOP has constantly attempted to re-brad itself since its devastating loss in 2012, there is perhaps nothing else that could change voter dynamics as much as siding in favor of personal liberty.

While Democrats have long talked a good game on minimizing the War of Drugs and its negative effects, their track record is far less savory. For example, the Obama administration was known to severely crack down on states with legal marijuana during the President’s first term.

Sarah Palin’s softened language on marijuana marks the shift that is occurring throughout the country and the Republican Party, and more inside the GOP would be wise to capitalize. While there are a vocal few who have yet to realize the folly of the War on Drugs, the principles of small government and individual liberty cannot be sustained in a nation where individuals are not free to choose to engage in activities which do not harm anyone but themselves.

About The Author

Josh Guckert
Associate Editor

Josh Guckert is a 25-year-old lawyer and has been a contributor to The Libertarian Republic since January 2015. He attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he received his BA in Political Science with a History Minor in 2013 before earning his JD in 2016. During his time in law school, he served as the Editor in Chief of the Pittsburgh Tax Review and Editorial Coordinator for the JURIST legal news service. He was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area. He is a 2013 graduate of Cato University, hosted by the Cato Institute. His largest areas of interest within the liberty movement include the protection of civil liberties and economic freedom. He is the former President of the Pitt chapter of Students for Rand and a former President of the Pitt Law chapter of the Federalist Society.