A conservative right-wing congressman who worked closely with Ronald Reagan during the end of the Cold War just compared the climate created by the failed, racist, and unduly expensive U.S. War on Drugs to that of a fascist state. Dana Rohrabacher from California, who proudly refers to himself as a “low tax guy” and brags about his collection of more than 50 pictures taken beside the former president, is also leading the Republican charge to end marijuana prohibition. Rohrabacher’s stance on this issue is very unusual, as conservatives have largely been the leaders and biggest allies in the War on Drugs.
He spoke at the International Cannabis Business Conference on February 15, 2015 to a crowd of cannabis business entrepreneurs, journalists, farmers and famed members of the drug reform movement, calling marijuana’s Schedule I status (which places it beside the drugs considered most dangerous with “no known medical use,”) an abomination.
“I think we have reached a tipping point and people are willing to look at this idea that our country took a wrong path,” he said. “Especially considering there are really good things that can be done with marijuana.”
Last year, Rohrabacher co-authored a historic bipartisan amendment to a Department of Justice spending bill that prohibits the federal government from using federal taxpayer funds to interfere with medical marijuana laws in 22 states that have passed them. In practice, that means federal agents are going against the constitution if they raid or in any other way interfere with state-legal marijuana programs.
At one point, the congressman even praised Attorney General Eric Holder — with whom he has butted heads on a number of issues — for his recent crackdown on civil asset forfeiture.
“If anything is an abuse of power, it is asset forfeiture,” he said.
Asset forfeiture allows law enforcement and government entities to seize personal property if they assert that it has been involved in certain criminal activities — primarily including drug law violations. Even before any convictions have been handed out, law enforcers can take away personal property. In some areas, officers are incentivized to seize items and auction them off for profit.
Solidifying his support for the activists who have fought long and hard to end the War on Drugs, Rohrabacher reminded the crowd that our founding fathers weren’t the polite and proper characters so often portrayed in historical retellings.
“These were not upper-middle class people acting respectively of the law who founded our country,” he said. “These were gutsy people, and they meant to have their freedom. They were willing to fight for it and the British government better not get in the way… That was the attitude that made our country.”
Somewhere along the line, he said, we lost some of those fundamental principles — the most important of which, he said, is the belief that rights are given by God to the individual.
“There are serious implications if the government goes beyond the rightful role government is supposed to play, and nowhere is that more clear than the drug war we’ve been seeing, and the effect it has had in our country,” he said.
Rohrabacher pointed out that until the turn of the century it was considered an individual right to consume whatever substances a person chose.
“You owned your body,” he said, and noted that, in an effort to “protect us from ourselves,” the government has gone overboard.
“By protecting us from ourselves and our decisions, what we have created is the basis of what — for the large segment of our population — is no different from a fascist or communist state,” he said. “If you’re a black citizen in this country and somebody says to the police ‘There’s drugs in that person’s house,’ the police come busting in with guns blazing, for goodness sakes. Is that freedom?”
As Rohrabacher noted, the police hardly ever raid homes for drugs in upper-class white areas, such as the one where he lives. In minority and poor communities, however, he pointed out, raids are commonplace. He noted that a drug conviction destroys a person’s life.
“For the rest of his or her life, they can’t get a job,” he said.
Rohrabacher has openly admitted to smoking marijuana in college, and said if he’d been arrested and convicted for doing so, his life would have looked quite different.
“I spent most of my life trying to defeat the Soviet Union, and the Cold War ended, and I probably played a role in that,” he said. “I dedicated most of my life to that. Years ago, had I been arrested for smoking marijuana, all of the things I have done to try to make this a better world would not have happened.”
Roranbacher admitted that the “vast majority” of his Democratic counterparts in Congress are already “on the right side of this issue,” and said he plans to continue doing all that he can to help change the drug laws in this country.