Clash of the Titans XXVII: Marijuana Legalization

June 7, 2007, 7:30 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, MC-B, Mike J  | No Comments

In this corner, supporting the legalization of pot, is Mike!

And in this corner, opposing marijuana legalization, is MC-B!

Those of you who know me as being perhaps on the theologically liberal end of the spectrum of Bweinh!tributors may be surprised to find out that I am essentially politically conservative.

This is something that has developed in recent years, probably as I have grown older and responsible for running a household with my wife Jill. During our first year of marriage especially, we were not making much money. “How are we going to pay for it?” became a consistent refrain — when thinking of buying a car, new furniture or even a pizza for dinner.

So while I hear and am genuinely moved by pleas for universal health care or raising the minimum wage, the question still pops up: “How are we going to pay for it?” Eventually, the answer comes to me: “You are . . . you and the rest of the tax base.” And while I ought to be ready and generous to give to worthy causes, I would just as soon not take the US government’s word for it in deciding what a worthy cause is.

Just on the off chance that the US government decided something immoral was a worthy cause (perish the thought!), I would rather not have the mechanism already in place to force me to pay for it. We need the government to protect citizens from trampling each others’ rights; we don’t need a government determining right and wrong for individuals when that behavior has no impact on the lives of others.

It is the same sort of logic that informs my position that marijuana should be legalized. I’ve never used marijuana; and not like Bill Clinton never used marijuana either. I’ve never used it, period. And I can’t imagine why someone would. But you know what? The threat posed to society at large by marijuana usage is minimal at most. It poses no undue risk to the general populace; it does not rob anyone else of their rights. Marijuana does not threaten to kill or injure anyone besides the user. And if people want to do things harmful to themselves, tobacco is already legal and shows no signs of becoming illegal.

As far as I can see, the main reason for keeping marijuana illegal is that our government wants to send a message that it is abhorrent and dangerous behavior. I don’t condone marijuana usage. But neither do I want our government exploiting its power to determine what is abhorrent and dangerous. Remember, orthodox Christianity isn’t always pretty in the eyes of our government either, but it’s protected belief and behavior . . . for now.

I guess I’m counted among the social conservatives of the world. Jonah Goldberg once described social conservatism (to me and my peers at SLU) as erring on the side of keeping things the same when change is proposed. He illustrated his point vividly — during the 1960’s, a significant number of hippie communes began suffering from terrible diseases no American doctor had ever seen. To make a long story short, it turns out the age-old traditions of bathing and personal hygiene were not just “the man’s” hang-ups after all.

People are good judges of what is beneficial for them often enough that most decisions are safe in their hands; personal choice is one of the greatest tenets underlying philosophical liberalism and democracy. However, these also generally assume people are self-interested, and what’s good for me is not always good for you. Sometimes I can even be fooled into making a decision that’s good for me in the short run, but hurts in the long run. It’s a real shame that we don’t have a natural experiment to show what happens if otherwise responsible adults spend too much on expensive, addictive habits and not enough on their health, family, education, etc.

But of course, we do. We could examine the effects of cigarettes, which cause cancer and eat up resources that could be used more productively. However, aside from addictiveness, tobacco does not have many of marijuana’s characteristics (no mind- altering experience, man!), so it’s probably better to compare marijuana to alcohol, a much more sobering comparison (pardon the pun). Both drugs produce an altered state of mind and can transform you into someone that you are not. Legalizing marijuana doesn’t just put it into the hands of homesick Europeans and responsible folks like you and me. It could also put psychoactive drugs into the hands of a welfare recipient who should be out looking for work or caring for his/her children, or a person getting behind the wheel of a car. Granted, there are still DUI/DWI laws, but think about what an unbridled success those have been and you’ll understand my desire to keep pot illegal. Such regulations barely deter anyway; few believe the risk of getting caught is significant.

Finally, though I may be guilty of employing the slippery slope fallacy, it’s not a particularly good argument for legalizing marijuana. Why make anything illegal at all if the government cannot make moral judgments? Even protecting me from my neighbor implies my life is worth more than what’s spent on protection. Like most arguments, the argument about legalizing marijuana comes down to a matter of degree — to what degree will we let the government determine what Americans shouldn’t put into their bodies? I have no disdain for people who draw the line elsewhere, nor do they lack in morals, but I sincerely believe some people are not responsible enough to limit their detrimental behavior, so marijuana should remain illegal.

Whose side are you on?
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