The New York Times announced last Sunday that it supports the legalization of marijuana. Technically, the New York Times didn’t quite say it favors outright legalization so much as it stated that the Federal prohibition against marijuana should be repealed. In any event, this is a big step in the inevitable decriminalization of the plant. I remember thinking a few years ago that marijuana will be legal within my lifetime (assuming I live a normal life). Now, I think it’s going to happen within a few years. The idea of legalizing marijuana has been bubbling for decades now, but it is finally gaining some real steam. In my opinion, the recent actions of Colorado and Washington pushed the issue past its tipping point. Two things are going to happen now. First, nothing is going to happen. Once people start to realize that these two states aren’t going to burn up or destroy themselves, more people in other parts of the country will realize there is no reason for their own states to not pass similar laws. Second, politicians in other states will see the massive amount of money that Colorado and Washington are going to be making by taxing the plant rather than banning it. They’re going to start to think about all the things they can do with the extra money. Moreover, by not having to waste resources on policing the law, they’ll save even more money.
Despite the logic in repealing a stupid law, there are critics. Critics to marijuana reform usually say a variation of the following argument: Marijuana is bad for you and we as a society shouldn’t condone it. And by legalizing it, we condone it. This is faulty argument for several reasons. First, I am not entirely even sure that marijuana is harmful. But assuming it is, does legalizing it really condone it? I don’t think it does. It is the act of a truly moronic society to confuse condoning something with legalizing it. William F. Buckley once said that we as a society don’t condone adultery. However, no one thinks that adultery should be illegal. This point was made in advocating that the war on (all) drugs should end. Moreover, smoking tobacco is at an all time historical low in the United States. The U.S. chose to handle tobacco smartly by taxing the hell out of it and by educating the public as to how dangerous it is. Not by making it illegal. If people really wanted to lower marijuana use, wouldn’t they want to replicate the success against tobacco versus the failure of the war on drugs? Lastly, keeping the substance illegal apparently has no effect on its use. So why keep an ineffective law on the books?
To be clear, there are probably some people who can’t handle marijuana and instances of marijuana abuse probably will increase if the drug is legalized. But so what? Like with everything else, the Pareto principle probably applies to drug use. Should we really ban something for all because of a few who can’t handle it? Some people can’t handle alcohol, does it mean we should go back to banning that? Of course not.
The best argument for the legalization of marijuana is that marijuana should be legalized because a majority of Americans want it legalized. I recognize that we don’t live in a true democracy, but behavior should only be criminalized when there is a strong majority against the behavior. It is really hard to justify taking someone’s liberty away and ruining their future when the person did something that most American’s don’t think should be illegal. In my opinion, the fact that marijuana was once illegal will be remembered as an odd quirk of history similar to using leeches to combat disease. In the meantime, it’s too bad that we live in a society where the punishment for doing a particular drug is worse for the person that effects of the drug itself.