By Matt Liles
For a brief moment, marijuana decriminalization in Texas was a bipartisan possibility. The Texas House recently approved a bill that would have prohibited the arrest of individuals for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. But when it was passed on to the state Senate, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick immediately gathered a Republican majority in opposition and killed the bill.
Like in Texas, swaths of conservatives around the country are holding out against the rising tide of decriminalization as more states are eliminating criminal penalties for possession. While this might be well-intentioned, its a mistakemarijuana decriminalization is firmly in line with conservative principles.
Fight for Big Government
The fight against marijuana is a fight for big government. Indeed, the pursuit of criminal charges for marijuana possession has just strengthened the power of prosecutors and invited arbitrary government abuse. Individual marijuana possession is now so common that the government has an excuse to exert itself and grow constantly. In 2017, local and federal authorities made just under 600,000 arrests for marijuana possession.
Thats why police and prosecutors demand never-ending resources and lobby for heightened regulations that allow them to continue enforcing overzealous marijuana laws.
Marijuana prosecution has also contributed to the expansion of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These regulations give the government, rather than judges, more power in deciding a defendants sentence. Since the passage of mandatory minimum laws three decades ago, both the number of people sentenced to prison time for marijuana possession and the average length of their sentences have increased. This isnt what our Founders imagined justice would look like.
For conservatives, preserving the integrity of the Bill of Rights is paramount. Yet, marijuana criminalization has done more than almost anything else to break down Fourth and Fifth Amendment protectionsby expanding the power of the government.
As libertarian criminal justice reporter Radley Balko wrote in The Washington Post, the drug war generally has eviscerated the Fourth Amendment. Police departments, too, have chipped away at the meaning of probable cause. Officers today can subject you to a roadside drug search for a litany of arbitrary reasons, like speeding or pulling over to use the bathroom.
Whether they turn up marijuana or not, these are clear-cut constitutional abuses. Yet, the abuse isnt limited to searches, either. With civil asset forfeiture, the government can seize your car and even your home just on the mere suspicion that theyre connected to a drug crime. For instance, Houston police took a womans car in February 2016 after finding her son driving it with 13.5 grams of marijuana in his pocket.