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writing for godot

Rethinking Marijuana

Written by Julian Modiano   
Tuesday, 24 April 2012 03:31
I wrote an essay about the legalization of marijuana a little less than a year ago, and was extremely pleased with it. I thought it was one of the best essays I had ever written – a clear reflection of my passion for the subject, and it even became the most popular article in the Godot section for a couple of days. Looking back, it wasn’t terrible. But neither was it anywhere as good as I thought it was, and the reason is simple: I completely missed the single most important reason as to why marijuana, or any drug for that matter, should not be illegal. I spent a lot of time talking about why marijuana wasn’t as bad for the health as we are taught, why it is ridiculous how much money is spent on a futile drug war, the social implications of sending drug users to jail, why it isn’t immoral, and the benefits to the economy. Those are the main themes that the debate tends to focus on, and on which I focused as well. Now, all of those are good reasons why marijuana should be legalized; but the truth is, they have nothing to do with it. Because the underlying assumption is that the government has the right to make it illegal in the first place, so the debate revolves around whether or not the government, in this case, is justified.

But is that really what the debate should be about? Why is it that no one ever challenges that basic assumption that the government, with proper reason to do so, is justified in making a substance illegal for personal use? When I realized this, I couldn’t believe that I’d never thought of it before in the first place. It’s absolute madness, there is no other word to describe it!

In most Western democracies, governments have usually been created to protect our freedom. We want to make sure that murderers are put in jail and that no one can walk into our house and steal our possessions without some kind of consequence. The only reason that the government should be allowed to make some kind of behaviour illegal is if it infringes on other peoples’ freedom. Most people would agree with these guidelines for a government, even if in the context of this essay you might be hesitant to admit it. But it’s clear that everyone would agree that there is no reason to restrict a person’s freedom, unless that person’s actions are threatening someone else’s freedom.

Clearly, the only reason the government might have to illegalize marijuana, or any other illegal drug for that matter, is if consuming it is an infringement of someone else’s freedom. Perhaps smoking marijuana in public constitutes such an infringement. If the claims of health hazards are true (which is questionable to say the least), then smoking in a public place could potentially be illegalized – due to the dangerous fumes that less than a gram of marijuana might emit and that could potentially be inhaled by someone walking by, leading to serious damage to their health. But what about the private use of drugs? Someone smoking a solitary joint in the confines of their home has absolutely no effect on anybody else, nor, for that matter, does the addict who is injecting himself with heroin. No one’s freedom is affected by their activities. Their own health could perhaps be in danger. So? Why should the government care? Should the government ban the driving of cars because it can be potentially fatal in an accident? Should we illegalize airplanes? Sky-diving? Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol? Who’s supposed to decide where to draw this entirely arbitrary line?

Following the logic that drugs should be illegal because they are harmful to individuals is clearly ridiculous. Many of the most enjoyable things we do have some kind of danger attached. Many of the activities we most enjoy are enjoyable especially because of the danger that comes with them. Extreme sports are a case in point – it’s the danger in climbing down a vertical sheet of ice that gets the adrenaline pumping and makes it such a fun activity for the brave few who do it. Society has a weird assumption that for some reason the government knows better than we do ourselves how to enjoy our lives.

In fact, the idea of even illegalizing cannabis in public is ridiculous. While at first it may seem like a decent idea, it really doesn’t have much, if any, basis to it either. To illustrate why it is an insane proposition one must only ask a couple of rhetorical questions. Should we make it illegal for people to smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk, since second-hand cigarette smoke is proven to cause cancer? Should we make it illegal for people to drive cars down the street, because the pollution they emit is also harmful to our health?

Some might argue that under the influence of certain drugs, we become violent and aggressive and are therefore more likely to harm others, and therefore infringe on their freedom. That may be true (although it is probably most true of alcohol, which is perfectly legal), but is it sufficient reason for prohibition? Of course not, because even walking around in a bad mood means there is a greater potential for harming someone else. The only difference between walking around in a bad mood and walking around high is how much more potential for violence there might be (and there is probably less potential with the person who is high). But they are logically on the same plane, which means that making one legal and the other not is a purely arbitrary distinction, and therefore entirely subjective and illegitimate.

There are some incredible arguments about the legalization of marijuana. But they are almost always dominated by the assumption that the government, given proper reason, would have the right to make it illegal – even for individuals. Perhaps even the idea that government has a right to anything is itself an assumption. People have rights, and the government was supposedly only created to protect those rights. So while it is also important to dispel myths about marijuana killing brain cells and informing people that there are very few actual scientific studies that support the idea that even long-term regular usage is bad for the health, it is also important to challenge the assumption that the government has any right to take our rights away for no reason. Of course, drugs like heroin are undoubtedly terrible for our health – but that doesn’t mean the government has the right to make it illegal. Instead, all of the resources wasted to keep it illegal should be spent advertising the fact that heroin is terrible, and trying to dissuade people from doing it in the first place. Because clearly, making it illegal has extremely little impact on the demand for it – only changing people’s opinions will ever make a significant difference. your social media marketing partner
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