Legalizing Marijuana – The Moral Case – 1 of 2

This is the first of a 2 part series about legalizing marijuana. Part 2, the fiscal case, by S. R. Mann, will be posted tomorrow.

As a social conservative, one tends to take a lot of unpopular positions.

Abortion? No.

Gay Marriage? No.

Nudity and profanity on TV? No (especially if they don’t advance the plot – looking at you, Game of Thrones).

But when it comes to marijuana… why not?

According to the latest polling, for the first time in 40 years a majority of Americans (52%) believe marijuana should be legalized. Broken down by generation, we see that Baby Boomers are evenly split, Gen-Xers are slightly more in favor at 54%, and Millennials have gone completely off the rails at 65% support for legalization.

It’s unsurprising that young people would have a more permissive attitude towards recreational drug use. More interesting is that Boomers have expressed wildly varying levels of support over the decades. One imagines that the responsibilities of parenthood and the influence of social efforts like “Just Say No” discouraged a robust (or honest?) defense of toking up. But as their children have left the nest and society relaxes its standards on…well, everything…they can let down what hair they have left.

Certainly there is a strong fiscal case for legalization – not only in terms of dollars saved on enforcement, incarceration, and interdiction, but also in potential revenue for governments as a regulated commodity. However, as a social conservative, I believe the most compelling argument for legalization is in fact a moral one.

I want to be clear that I do not intend to excuse law-breaking in the current system. The prohibition on marijuana is, in my opinion and that of the Supreme Court, a just law which should be followed. I don’t condone marijuana use any more than I condone alcohol for those under age 21. There isn’t an insurmountable moral case against its legalization, however.

Valid moral objections can be raised against the use of marijuana. To my mind they are much the same as the objections to abuse of alcohol or any intoxicant. Nobody likes a sloppy drunk or someone too stoned to realize they are drooling on their shirt at the mention of Doritos Locos Taco Flavored Doritos. Anything which takes away man’s God-given ability to reason, which reduces him to an insensate animal, is immoral.

Many point to the negative effect marijuana can have on a person’s personality, drive, and character. Indeed there are far too many people who through over-consumption become stunted, withered, dreadlocked shades of themselves. Perhaps you’ve watched a friend’s potential drift away from them, obscured in acrid smoke. But is that the marijuana’s fault? No. The truth is that some people can balance the demands of life with responsible use of intoxicants, and some can’t.

It is incumbent upon the individual to know his limits, and on a community to support each other in making the right choices.

The burnout on the corner isn’t much different from the drunk at the bar.The moral failure of marijuana is in immoderation, not the tetrahydrocannabinol.

But by far the greater moral cost can be measured in human lives. Estimates place the number of people killed due to the drug war in Mexico as high as 70,000 – and that’s just since 2006. The ongoing butchery there is well-known. We’re also familiar with the impact closer to home, in our cities and towns.

The black market for drugs is a lucrative one. The inflated price of marijuana, the most common illicit drug, finances criminal activity and encourages violence, theft, and murder. So long as that money is waiting to be made, criminals will continue to exploit the opportunity. The rippling economic costs of addiction, property destruction, theft, corruption, and murder in a community are practically immeasurable. If permitting responsible adults to buy and use cannabis prevents even some of that violence, it is incumbent upon us to permit it. If legalization deprives the international criminals who profit from human misery even a percentage of their illegal wealth, it is our responsibility to deprive them.

Too often, our permissive society looks the other way as sin and vice strip people of their dignity. We are right to stand against that. But we must be prudent, not just principled. Far better to permit the use of this comparatively harmless drug, and fight for responsible consumption, than to stay on this path of waste, suffering, and death.

For a more comprehensive, numbers and data approach to the topic, required reading is this National Review piece. And, as always, please continue the conversation in the comments.