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Conservatives’ Culture War Withdrawal

An older gentleman holds a sign saying "Republicans: We are pro-life tea party."

Joint Opinions

Conservatives’ Culture War Withdrawal

Are conservatives surrendering the drug war? You’d be forgiven for thinking so after a nine-page manifesto for a “constitutionally conservative” party platform emerged recently from an array of conservative figures without one mention of the War on Drugs. While the document addresses abortion, gun-rights, immigration and a whole host of culture war topics, absent is any mention of marijuana legalization or drug use generally.

Organized by the Conservative Action Project, the document is a follow up to a 2010 Tea Party declaration of values. Unveiled in Tyson Corner, VA, this year’s document brought a swath of influential conservatives meant to contrast the policies of the GOP establishment. Included were the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, Americans for Tax Reform, tea party groups and others.

The absence in a document otherwise meant to be a unifying list of priorities is telling. Underemphasized for a number of years, drug policy has been catching on recently, with sentencing reforms, easing restrictions on hemp, and many states loosening outdated laws. This has lead to push back from several groups, most strongly social conservatives equating drug use with moral weakness.

Conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, who spoke at the private GOP gathering last month, and head of the non-profit Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, are on record opposing marijuana legalization. The Heritage Foundation’s website shared a post from Project SAM, prohibition booster Kevin Sabet less than a month ago.

But this silence says the most. A few years ago the drug war was widely ignored. Its omission was frustrating, but didn’t mean much politically. However, since states began legalizing recreational pot use by adults, the topic has been front-and-center across the nation.

“At a time when poll after poll is showing clear majority voter support for marijuana legalization and other important drug policy reforms, it doesn’t surprise me at all to see that prominent political groups are starting to scrap stale drug war cheerleading from platform documents like this,” said Tom Angell of the non-profit Marijuana Majority.

The drug war has polled poorly for years, but only recently have major polling firms found majority support for legalization.

Marijuana Majority like the odds for future legalization measures coming before voters over the next few years.

“I expect to see these groups realizing that it makes good political sense to actually start including planks that forcefully call for needed reforms like legalizing marijuana.” Angell said.

The Republican party has struggled to negotiate it’s libertarian, limited-government wing from its social conservative one. Libertarians traditionally embrace legalization because of its personal liberty and free market benefits. Social conservatives often see government intervention as justifiable if it reinforces values of which they approve.

The party’s third group, business and establishment conservatives could swing either way, towards an emerging market, or status quo continuity. Current drug policy has many economic drawbacks, but there are enough profitable enterprises that the group is just now starting to feel pressure to choose.

Midterm elections skew older and more conservative, two groups that have been the least receptive to marijuana reform. However, a legalization measure is on the ballot in Alaska, and medical marijuana will be voted on in Florida. Both have polled strongly. This may not be full surrender, but as reform comes up across the country, leaving pot on the sidelines of the culture war may be one of conservative’s wiser elections moves.

Neither the Family Research Council, nor Americans for Tax Reform, returned a request for comment on this story.

What do you think? Are conservatives surrendering the War on Drugs? Tell us in the comments below.

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