Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Messed Up on Drugs

In the most recent election cycle, several states reformed their  marijuana laws. Following the example of other states, Massachusetts legalized marijuana for medical use. Perhaps setting the example that other states will follow in the future, Washington state and Colorado legalized marijuana for private use.

These developments exacerbates the already confusing legal and moral questions on drug use.

First, and what should be the easiest confusion to clarify, concerns the question of federalism. Law regarding controlled substances really should remain in the hands of state legislatures. The Constitution provides no role  for the federal government in setting and enforcing laws about consumption of narcotics. As a matter of border control, the federal government has the interdicting the importation of marijuana from outside the country. And the commerce clause empowers it to regulate any transportation of marijuana across state lines. That seems about it. The federal government, through Congressional action, presidential executive orders, and judicial activism, acts as if it has the legal authority to rule on anything and everything. Consequently, the federal government has asserted jurisdiction over marijuana and other controlled substances that conflicts with many state laws. The federal government opposes marijuana for both medical and recreational uses.

Second, the legalization of so-called medical marijuana seems to be a scam to erode resistance to legalization for so-called recreational use. In the first place, whatever medicinal value of marijuana has been capitalized upon by drug companies. The production of Idrasil should have ended the question of "medical marijuana." Legalization advocates, however, claim Idrasil is not as effective as raw weed. (Perhaps this means that the pill comes without the "side effects" that are really the "intended effects" for recreational users.) In the second place, some preliminary data suggests that the primary users of medical marijuana are not elderly stage four cancer patients under intense pain, but 25-34 year old males who need "relaxation."

Third, the legalization of marijuana for recreational use creates a whole new set of problems. In spite of the cannabis  countdown that took place in Seattle,  public consumption of marijuana remains illegal in both Washington and Colorado.

The law merely legalized possession. It remains unsettled how marijuana will be sold, regulated, and taxed. (The opportunity for increased tax revenue is about the worst argument for legalization.) Schools and employers will still possess the right to exclude marijuana from campuses and workplaces.

Finally, there is the more complex health and  moral questions. Like other drugs, marijuana has negative side effects. Reefer reformers claim it is no more dangerous that cigarettes or alcohol. But why should states legalize one more substance that negatively impacts the health of its citizens?

 And smoking marijuana seems just a little bit morally vicious. Again, reefer reformers liken it to alcohol. One supporter noted that now that marijuana is legal,  people can go to marijuana instead of alcohol. By "people," this advocate meant those addicted to the vice of excess regarding their alcohol consumption. Those "people" now enjoy an alternative source for excess.

This analogy between alcohol and marijuana, however, is not so clear. Beer, wine, and even distilled spirits contain alcohol, classified as drug. But they are more of a food than they are a drug. They are consumed for nutrition and the pleasure of their taste. They only become a vice when consumed in excess. Marijuana, however, is not consumed for the pleasure of a bong burn. Marijuana's use is for the same effect of alcohol's abuse. Most thoughtful people acknowledge the moral vice of the temporary physical and mental debilitation through intoxication by alcohol; the same should be true for becoming blazed by blunts.

Ultimately, this raises the question of to what extent a state should take an interest in the moral character of its citizens.  This is why I am a conservative and not a liberal or a libertarian.

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