- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

DENVER - Bob Barr has been to the Dark Side, and they do indeed have cookies.

The Libertarian National Convention kicked off yesterday with a tea-and-cookies reception hosted by the Marijuana Policy Project featuring none other than Mr. Barr, the party’s leading candidate for its presidential nomination.

Such a scene would have been unthinkable a few years ago when Mr. Barr’s name was synonymous with the war on drugs. In 1998, he authored the Barr Amendment, which prohibited the District of Columbia from voting to permit medical-marijuana use and became a lightning rod for drug-legalization advocates.

But times have changed. After leaving the Republican Party in 2006, Mr. Barr denounced the federal drug war and became a lobbyist for his former nemeses at the Marijuana Policy Project.

One of his top priorities during the last congressional session was the repeal of his own amendment, which has remained part of the congressional appropriations bill for the District of Columbia even though Mr. Barr left office in 2002.

“Ten years ago, we were natural enemies,” said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “But people do change their minds sometimes. He’s been evolving over the last few years on legalization issues, and we’re always happy when people come over to our side.”

Among those expected to give the Sunday nominating speeches for Mr. Barr at the convention is Rob Kampia, the Marijuana Policy Project’s executive director, who praised the candidate for having the courage of his convictions.

“It’s very rare to find someone who’s willing to change their position and then be so public about it,” Mr. Kampia said. “He’s definitely increased the credibility of the Marijuana Policy Project. People have to take us seriously when we walk through the door with Bob Barr.”

Mr. Barr addressed his position on the drug legalization yesterday in an online conversation with the Rocky Mountain News.

“Regarding the drug war, I’ve been there, done that, and know firsthand our current strategy is not working,” said Mr. Barr.

“Continuing to have the federal government run roughshod over the states, even if the citizens of a state decide they wish to legalize medicinal marijuana, for example, is wrong,” he said. “As president, I would completely reorient federal law enforcement priorities, that currently are skewed far too much against marijuana possession, and would consider all - and I do mean all - options.”

The Libertarian Party platform calls for the repeal of drug laws and the pardoning of nonviolent drug offenders.

“The suffering that drug misuse has brought about is deplorable; however, drug prohibition causes more harm than drugs themselves,” the platform reads. “The so-called ‘War on Drugs’ is in reality a war against the American people, our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is a grave threat to individual liberty, to domestic order and to peace in the world.”

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is among the convention’s chief sponsors, although the organization remains nonpartisan. Among the project’s prominent early donors was Democratic fundraiser George Soros.

“The MPP works with Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, even Republicans,” Mr. Kampia said. “We always support candidates who support our views.”

As part of his lobbying duties last year, Mr. Barr also championed a medical-marijuana amendment and legislation to defund the so-called drug czar’s advertising budget, Mr. Kampia said.

As a congressman, Mr. Barr used his eponymous amendment to block D.C. officials from counting the votes from a November 1998 ballot measure that would have legalized medicinal marijuana.

After a federal judge ordered the ballots counted, voters learned that the measure had been approved by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent. The U.S. Court of Appeals later reinstated the Barr Amendment, preventing the District from processing any new laws aimed at legalizing medicinal marijuana.

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