Friday, October 6, 2017

Legalize It!

The costs of criminalizing marijuana are far greater than any cost society would bear if it were legal. The medical costs, economic costs (in the way of lost taxes and tariffs), and the cost of enforcing marijuana laws are all due to its criminalization. Prohibition of marijuana stimulates crime, diverts resources that could be used to deal with violent criminals, and by its nature, criminalization threatens individual civil liberties and destroys the social fabric of poor neighborhoods. Because the greatest societal costs of marijuana come from its prohibition, we must legalize pot at the federal level.
The prohibition of marijuana is the result of paternalism run amok. Originally banned by Congress in 1937, with no medical or scientific testimony supporting the ban, marijuana has not been demonstrated to be more harmful than alcohol, tobacco or pornography, for that matter. In fact, while many individuals have died as a result of enforcement of the prohibition against marijuana, evidence of deaths due to marijuana use is practically non-existent (Nadelmann, 1989; Christiansen, 2010).  The ostensible purpose of anti-pot laws is the paternalistic mantra of preventing harm to oneself and others.  Yet, the only “victim” of marijuana use is consensual, in fact desires to engage in the activity, and is in no danger of harm from the use of pot.  The potential that a marijuana user may be harmed as a direct consequence of enforcement of the prohibition, on the other hand is much greater. A pot user could be forcibly arrested, jailed, fined, and in the wrong circumstances injured or killed.  Prohibition mandates the use of physical force against people engaging in what is, basically, a nonviolent, consensual act involving only the user.      
Moreover, prohibition has obviously failed. Marijuana use has not ceased. In fact, American teenagers use marijuana at a greater rate than teenagers in Europe. When compared to the Netherlands, for example, with its rather lax drug laws, “twice as many residents of the United States have experimented with… illicit drugs” (Husak, 2002, p. 159). In fact, marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug used in America today, after alcohol and tobacco (Duncan, 2009).  Prohibitionists argue that marijuana use causes societal harm in the way of drug related violence and the creation of a “black market” for pot. Yet, they fail to separate the harm caused by marijuana, per se, from the harm that is caused because pot use has been criminalized. For example, if a person smokes marijuana in California today, prohibition would not have prevented any of the harmful consequences to him or her—consequences that would occur even if marijuana was decriminalized, taxed and overseen by the Food and Drug Administration.  There is no harm or cost to society from such use, regardless of legality.  However, if the same person is arrested and subjected to criminal court processes, all the costs and financial burdens borne by the individual and society are harm due to prohibition of marijuana.  Christiansen notes that
“A disconnect also exists between marijuana policy and some of the government's own research regarding the detrimental effects on users themselves. There is no evidence marijuana causes any more harm to its users than many other legal drugs. In some ways marijuana may even be less harmful” (2010, p. 233).
Studies have shown that marijuana is less addictive than either alcohol or tobacco (Duncan, 2009).
Such paternalistic disregard of the consequences of prohibition, as opposed to marijuana per se, further results in the trampling of individual liberties. The fervor with which authorities pursue their anti-marijuana agendas has caused resulted in the disregard of what are typically considered fundamental rights. If a person is believed to have smoked pot, he or she may be subjected to urine tests, strip searches, civil forfeiture of personal property, school locker searches (without probable cause), car searches, or even detention.  Such governmental trespasses into the realm of personal liberties are a direct consequence of the prohibition of marijuana. Decriminalizing pot would serve to lift these burdens on our human rights.
It’s been noted that because marijuana offenses are usually hidden from police view, and there are rarely complaining witnesses, law enforcement personnel must invade the private lives of persons they merely suspect of drug use (Witsosky, 1987).  Wisotsky goes on to say that drug prohibition
“is producing a politicallegal context in which drug enforcement constitutes an exception to the principle that laws must comport 'with the deepest notions of what is fair and just.' In drug enforcement, most anything goes…” (Witsosky, 1987, pp. 925-26).
Often, any evidence to prove guilt in the context of a marijuana violation is not obtained until law enforcement officials have already intruded on an individual’s liberties.  Thus, the rights and privacy of many innocent people are violated because of marijuana prohibition. 
When a person’s rights are violated by being forced to not engage in activities he or she desires to engage in, the individual experiences a loss of control over his or her own life.  The individual’s own judgment has been replaced by that of others.  Further, because the individual does not value the judgment with which his own has been replaced, he or she has been displaced from “the realm of action and [put] into mere motion" (Rothbard, 1981, p. 93).
Marijuana prohibition, by wresting judgment from individuals and substituting it with that of the state, thus reduces individual responsibility.  While it may be commonplace to assert that with freedom comes responsibility, it is the inverse that is true:  responsibility requires liberty.  Without the freedom to use one’s judgment to make decisions, one cannot be expected to act responsibly, since one can’t be responsible for things outside his or her control. By co-opting individual judgment, as the government does in punishing marijuana use, it takes responsibility away from the individual by way of reducing the time and energy spent in dealing with the aspect of life now controlled by the government (Rothbard, 1981). 
While prohibition of marijuana has deprived many individuals of a choice, it has provided an opportunity to others:  drug dealers. Many poor, under-educated youth in inner cities today turn to selling marijuana, and other drugs, out of economic necessity, which in turn, invites violence and other crime into their communities. As Duncan notes,
“Given the costs associated with prohibition and the meager results obtained thus far, there is ample evidence to conclude that we are wasting our money…. Drug policy in general, and marijuana policy in particular, falls most harshly and most unfairly on racial minorities and the poor. Prohibition is not only ineffective, but highly inequitable as well” (2009, p. 1721).
If marijuana were decriminalized, corner pot dealers would no longer be needed. Much of the billions of dollars spent every year on enforcement, coupled with the potential for tax revenue from legal pot sales, could be diverted back into education and development projects in the neighborhoods that were tainted by prohibition-related crime.
Over the years, the government has wasted billions of dollars on marijuana prohibition. The costs and effects of prohibition on society due to the paternalistic usurpation of individual judgment far outweigh the harm done by marijuana per se.   Marijuana prohibition has resulted in deprivation of personal liberties, loss of individual responsibility, crime, and community harm.  It’s time we stop wasting taxpayer money on prohibition of marijuana and trust U.S. citizens to be responsible adults.
Christiansen, M. (2010).  “A great schism: social norms and marijuana prohibition.”  Harvard Law and Policy Review, Vol. 4, p. 229.
Duncan, C. (2009). “The need for change:  an economic analysis of marijuana policy.”  Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 41, p. 1701.
Husak, D. (2002).  Legalize this!: the case for decriminalizing drugs.  New York: Verso.
Nadelmann, E. (1989). "Drug prohibition in the United States: costs, consequences, and alternatives." Science, Vol. 245, no. 4921.
Rothbard, M. (1981).  “Frank S. Meyer: the fusionist as libertarian manqué.”  Freedom and virtue, the conservative/libertarian debate. Carey, G. (ed. 1984).
Wisotsky, S. (1987). “Crackdown: the emerging ‘drug
exception’ to the bill of rights.” Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 38, p. 889.

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