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Hillary Clinton's Obtuse Pot Policy Exposes the Dubious Right-Left Dichotomy of Every Issue

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The Daily Beast has a bit this week about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming donor clash over marijuana policy. Her position as recently as last year is that marijuana is a gateway drug and would be legalized, even medicinally, at great risk to society.

“I think the feds should be attuned to the way marijuana is still used as a gateway drug and how the drug cartels from Latin America use marijuana to get footholds in states,” she told KPCC radio last July.

This is at odds with big donors she’s meeting in California soon, as well as the general public, which supports legalizing it completely. That, of course, means that Hillary’s position on the issue will almost certainly “evolve” before 2016 gets too much closer. But if she doesn’t, she could end up to the “right” of her Republican challenger here.

That raises the question of whether marijuana prohibition is even a cause of the right or the left to begin with. Currently it’s assumed to be a liberal issue, and polls support that by showing huge majorities of Democrats favoring legalization but much smaller numbers of Republicans.

But should it be? Alcohol prohibition was a cause of the progressive left in the early 20th Century. Now marijuana legalization is primarily a cause of that same progressive left today. Does that mean what constitutes progressivism has reversed itself? Hardly. Progressives are still in favor of government control on countless substances: tobacco, sugar, fat, GMOs, salt. They’ve just come around on weed, and a few on the harder stuff.

I think this is a clear example of how big a failure the right-left/conservative-liberal dichotomy of every issue has become. In reality, unlike the news cycle, there are at least two ideological dimensions that most issues could fall into, not just one. The Political Compass quiz portrays these dimensions simply (though there are others, like foreign policy, that don’t fit there either).

In reality, marijuana prohibition isn’t a right or a left issue at all, since it’s not really about economics. It’s a libertarian issue, one of individual freedom, as opposed to government control.

Hillary (so far) opposes legalization, so her stance on the issue is authoritarian, not “right”. If her eventual Republican opponent is more open to legalization than she is, he (or she?) won’t be to her “left” on the issue, he’ll be more libertarian on it.

The same goes for other non-economic left/right issues. Same-sex marriage is less government restriction, not more, so it’s a libertarian issue, not a left issue. Gun rights are libertarian, not “conservative”. Just because there are more conseratives than libertarians, and most of the media doesn’t often understand the difference, doesn’t mean they get to coopt and muddy the language.


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