I should like to say something about Marijuana. Specifically recreational use. Please read on as this is very important to me, and as I will show, I believe that it ought to be important to you too.
The ongoing criminalization of cannabis hurts us more than the plant itself ever could. It impedes our ability to keep the drug out of the hands of those who peddle to kids, costs otherwise lawful citizens their livelihoods and diverts police resources from far more serious matters.
Recall the American prohibition of alcohol in the 1930’s: despite its arguably noble intentions, it gave organized crime a foothold (by awarding criminals the market demand which legitimate commerce could not answer) and wasted many lives and dollars along the way. Yet, at no point did prohibition succeed in curing the people of their desire for drink. Fast forward to 2012 and we find ourselves in a familiar situation. Cannabis prohibition is similar in that it too is a costly failure, but different in the sense that alcohol causes 2,500,000 deaths a year, according to the WHO, and cannabis has yet to cause a single death by its consumption alone.
Of course, cannabis isn’t completely harmless. A recent 25-year study concluded that heavy use during adolescence causes permanent cognitive deficiencies later in life. At first glance, this seems like a good reason to make the substance illegal in an attempt to keep it out of the hands of children. However, it is the very policy of prohibition which makes certain that distribution is not overseen by any legitimate entity. Due to this, those developing minors who are at the greatest risk and who cannot obtain alcohol are free to tap into the ever-burgeoning street market for cannabis which seeks not for suitable clients, but only for those with cash.
Prohibition is still worse when you consider that the illegitimate dealers of cannabis may push far more dangerous drugs, and might even seek an opportunity to promote a relationship of dependence with the buyer. Here can can see the true gateway effect not being the substance, but the prohibition of it. Conversely, suppose cannabis was regulated like alcohol. In this case, the black market for cannabis would deflate, and thus, users who are otherwise lawful citizens would not have to consort with and fund (with untaxed dollars) the operations of criminals.
As a result of the criminalization of cannabis, these impediments to progress remain and the violent arm of the law must apply its coercion to the populace, nearly a majority of whom are current or one-time users (here referring to Canada). The effect is that otherwise lawful citizens are made into criminals whose only crime is to have accepted the idea of inebriation, but to have rejected alcohol in favour of a more subdued alternative. This is a waste of police resources that could be focused on violent crimes, theft, and corruption. Worst of all, in light of the information revolution, everyone can now see that cannabis is mostly harmless when it is used in moderation by able-minded adults. The measures that jeopardize our children’s safety, bring violence on to good persons, and waste police resources do not align with the relatively harmless nature of the substance. Whether it is ignorance or known hypocrisy, the ongoing error of cannabis criminalization acts only to weaken the bond between the people and the government.
That being said, there is another question beyond whether or not cannabis ought to be illegal, and that question is whether or not adults ought to enjoy cannabis. On one hand, considering the ‘big picture’, I do not believe that persons ought to use cannabis (nor should they drink alcohol), and I say this with regard to the beauty of reality that a sober child’s mind observes, and with respect to the many existential threats that, until we effectively address them, threaten thoughtful and peaceful human existence (e.g. perpetual war, terrorism, economic uncertainty, and climate change). Of course on a more realistic note, we are not a puritanical society, and we do enjoy our alcohol. If, in this Monday to Friday, nine to five, employment to retirement paradigm, a responsible citizen wishes to have a drink to unwind, why forbid him or her from unwinding with some cannabis as an alternative?
I see no good reason to keep cannabis use against the law while alcohol is legal. Alcohol overuse hurts our organs, ferments fights and promiscuity among our sons and daughters, and it strips rational judgment from all those who indulge. Cannabis also aids in the enjoyment of leisure time, but instead of the dangerous caveats of alcohol, cannabis drives people to introspection, tolerance, and creativity, and it nonviolently lends to the increased enjoyment of music, film, food, and sex. Yet, cannabis continues to be forbidden, for no reason other than the inertia of bad law.
With regard to the primary worry concerning legalization, namely legalization will be perceived as a green light by the state, this is not a worry worth our time. At present alcohol is legal, but those who overindulge at the wrong times are chastised and those who promote drinking in children are punished accordingly. This same behavior will be put upon the legal substance of cannabis. The paranoia that people will not be able to help themselves is a slight to humanity. Just as one cannot produce good bowlers by removing the lane’s gutters, one cannot produce virtuous citizens without a healthy dose of both temptation (which exists everywhere in the world) and reasoned wisdom. To remove temptation is to atrophy that part of ourselves which resists, our virtue. And a great part of promoting virtue in a populace is leading by example. For the government to continue on as if Cannabis was harmful, when only their stubborn actions to keep it illegal are, how can we expect our children to grow up with a positive idea of their state? And what would they think we expect of them if we continue to lie, waste resources, and prop up criminal enterprise? Our present inaction to right the problems is foolish, backwards, and entirely immoral.
Whether or not you enjoy the substance yourself, you are footing the bill of prohibition and living in a world laden with the collateral damage of a war whose time has come to end.
Until we adjust the law to be in line with the world we live in, and with the world that we want to shape and until cannabis laws reflect real world social and scientific considerations, we are going to continue to see potential wasted, resources squandered, and trust in the law tarnished. Regulate cannabis, promote moderation among adults, and teach the virtue of sober thought and responsible action to the kids.