Baptists and Bootleggers

Steven Greenhut: Back in Prohibition, the two groups that most vociferously opposed the legalization of alcohol sales were the rum runners, who didn’t want the competition, and the religious folks, who had had moral objections to booze and were eager to use the government to impose their moral views on the nation. Libertarians often use the phrase, “the Baptists and the Bootleggers,” to remind people of the strange bedfellows that often emerge in various moral campaigns. That’s true in environmental crusades as the Baptists are the true-believing Earth savers the the Bootleggers are the developers who profit when the government keeps land artificially scarce.

This term is even more accurately used to refer to the Prop. 19 campaign to legalize recreational uses of small amounts of marijuana, which will be on the November ballot. Already, various pastors have been railing against this. And now we see that the beer distributors have joined the fray. As the Record-Searchlight in Redding reported: “The folks who deliver beer and other beverages to liquor stores have joined the fight against legalizing marijuana in California. On Sept. 7, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors gave $10,000 to a committee opposing Proposition 19, the measure that would change state law to legalize pot and allow it to be taxed and regulated.”

Here’s a great quote from the article: “‘Unless the beer distributors in California have suddenly developed a philosophical opposition to the use of intoxicating substances, the motivation behind this contribution is clear,’ Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in statement. “Plain and simple, the alcohol industry is trying to kill the competition. Their mission is to drive people to drink.'”

Ironically, many opponents of Prop. 19 make the case that it will endanger public safety, although the argument can be made that keeping marijuana illegal makes them more likely to drink — something far more dangerous to individuals and the public. Drug legalization would lessen the drug war, especially in Mexico. The current war is unjust, costly and drives up the price of illegal drugs, thus making the business more lucrative to the worst sort of outlaws. Conservatives used to call for legalization based on conservative principles (i.e., William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman called for legalization of all drugs) and many liberals used to support such sensible policies as well, often for justice reasons.

Now liberal newspapers, such as the Sacramento Bee have made stopping Prop. 19 one of their biggest causes of the election season. I can’t figure that one out.

Regardless of utilitarian arguments, marijuana should be legal because in a free society people should be free to do such things.

It’s always interesting to look at the strange political alliances. There often is a Baptist and Bootlegger angle in all of these efforts to restrict individual freedom.

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