Let’s Tell Our Neighbors What to Do

23:56 Tue 02 Nov 2010
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The failure of Proposition 19, the attempt to legalize marijuana in California, isn’t quite as depressing to me as 2008’s passage of anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8. Mainly because I wasn’t that hopeful that 19 would pass—the sentiments behind the prevailing anti-19 vote are as repugnant as those behind the pro-8 vote.

I have a lot of trouble with this one; I can’t really empathize with the anti-legalization mindset. Well, I can see the existing marijuana distribution systems, legal and otherwise, promoting their own self-interest, and while I don’t like that, I can comprehend it. The other arguments against legalization?

  • Impaired drivers. Even if this really allowed drivers to drive while high, that’s clearly an issue to be dealt with by making driving while impaired illegal.
  • Employee use. Essentially, employers couldn’t screen out marijuana smokers on that basis alone, and would have to e.g. allow marijuana smoke breaks if they allowed cigarette smoke breaks, and furthermore could only dismiss employees for impaired performance, not for smoking marijuana. So what’s the problem here? If they’re not impaired, there’s no reason to fire them; if they are impaired, they can be fired. Given how few protections employees have, I seriously doubt many would be successful in legal claims based on this area of the law.
  • Federal funding. This is trickier, as California organizations would no longer be eligible for federal funding. Essentially this is a gigantic anti-democratic approach by the federal government, and the pro-legalization argument here is that the suffering by California would be short-lived as legalization in this state push other states, and also push representatives from this state to tackle the federal funding issue.
  • Increased marijuana use. Maybe more people would use it if it were fully legal, but… so what? I haven’t seen much to support the claim that this would inherently be a bad thing, and even if it were proven to be a bad thing, that still doesn’t justify the severe limitation on personal freedom—and even less so considering that cigarettes are legal.

To be fair, I can agree with some of the arguments against Proposition 19 in particular, rather than legalization in general. It seems to have quite a few problems, and I wish a better-written measure had been on the ballot. However, it would still have created a better situation than the current one, because it would have established a local legal right to use marijuana, and the existence of that right is quite valuable indeed. Furthermore, it would have sent a clear message about the direction to go in—that is, towards greater freedom, which is always the right way to go.

Many of the opponents of Proposition 19 seemed to address it as if we were currently in a vacuum, with no laws governing marijuana use, and had plenty of time to ponder the perfect framework for the substance. But in fact we’re in a situation that’s manifestly unfair, treating a less-dangerous drug more harshly than nicotine or alcohol, enforcing laws against it in an inconsistent and very likely classist & racist way, and above all maintaining an unwarranted denial of freedom.

That last point is the key one. By what right does the government reach into your home to say “you cannot use that substance on yourself”? Further, to say “if you do use it, we reserve the right to lock you away”?

Now, in California at least, the government can clearly point to public opinion. Hence the title of this post, because that’s what it comes down to. Far too many people think it right to legislate the behavior of others. And it’s always others—no doubt many of the No on 19 voters have smoked marijuana themselves, but that’s different, of course. They’re responsible and can be trusted not to abuse it. It’s those others who can’t handle it who must be protected from themselves. Protected from the tiny potential ill effects of marijuana by, well, imprisoning a lot of them and inflicting far worse than the drug ever would have.

3 Responses to “Let’s Tell Our Neighbors What to Do”

  1. Graham Says:

    Fags, booze and a fatal heroin overdose have all deeply affected my family.

    There’s an argument to be made for legalisation of all drugs. There’s also an argument to be made for prohibition of all drugs. While neither argument satisfies me completely, I do recognise the logic and rationale behind each.

    What I find less easy to comprehened is the idea that some drugs should be legal and others prohibited! Particularly the notion that cigarettes and alcohol and the prescription chorus are legitimate highs and everything else should be banned. I’d suggest they might have picked drugs equally bad as those to green light – but couldn’t have picked drugs that would have been any worse.

  2. Tadhg Says:

    Any argument for prohibition is an argument for a fundamentally invasive state security apparatus; a society that prohibits substances is not a society without those substances. I could see a theoretical argument for elimination of certain substances, but that is emphatically not the same as the argument for their prohibition.

  3. helen Says:

    Marijuana has an unpredictable but extremely serious propensity for triggering latent psychosis. Most people who smoke weed are fine; some end up in psychiatric wards for life; some become increasingly unable to function in society without becoming completely psychotic. I’m agnostic about legalisation, but I can see that the potential to cause psychosis, particularly in the very young, is a strong reason for banning weed.

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