Your “code word” observation is important, I think. Small government proponents tend to be (in my experience) pushers of value systems. Small government mantras suit them sometimes, so they talk about it.
The American “War on Drugs” is huge government business. Our judicial system on both state and federal systems is dominated by prosecutions that center around people using drugs, even when research tells us that criminalization has done little to nothing to reduce drug use, and even when some drug use (like THC) is arguably not harmful to society.
Our prisons are bursting with people who are locked up because of drugs. That’s the primary reason we incarcerate a far larger percentage of our population than any other nation on earth.
Our government prison system is bigger just by itself than many national governments around the world.
“Small government” proponents did that, and they want to keep it that way. They don’t actually care how big the government is so long as it’s doing what they want it to do.