Legalizing marijuana is the right thing to do

According to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, now running as the Libertarian candidate for President of the United States, approximately 800,000 Americans are arrested annually for non-violent marijuana use. As a solution, he encouraged the creation of “harm reduction” policies in his state to mitigate the harmful and expensive practice of incarceration for possession and minor offenses. While such a policy of harm reduction, sometimes including rehabilitation services, would be an improvement over extensive incarceration, it misses the point in the drug war: the issue is not that the drug war ‘doesn’t work’ to end the use of drugs – since, as Johnson admits, drug use in itself can never be truly stopped – but that it violates an individual’s right to choose whether or not to use marijuana.

A proper drug policy would come at the federal level, not the state level – since neither seat of power may properly choose for individual citizens whether to experiment with drugs, the legality (or morality) of marijuana use in itself cannot properly be left at the discretion of individual states. Even if it is granted that the federal government cannot control citizens’ decisions with regards to marijuana, states cannot then be allowed to compete over the violation of their citizens’ rights. As such, the use of marijuana in any amount for smokers of age should be legalized across the board. It would receive roughly the same treatment as alcohol – individuals below a certain age would not legally be able to use it, and would be punished for using it under-age, with a graduated fine imposed as a function of the amount of marijuana possessed. After reaching the eligible age for use, one would never face any penalties for possession in itself.

With regards to the amount of marijuana that a given individual carries: just as there is no policy to limit the number of alcoholic beverages that an individual of legal age consumes, the legal use of marijuana cannot properly be limited to a specific amount. Individuals old enough to possess marijuana would be allowed to grow, obtain, use, and sell it in any amount. Furthermore, just as it is the violent manifestation of alcohol abuse – but not the taboo of it – that is punished, so too would it be for marijuana. That is, drugged driving or causing damage to others’ property while under the influence of marijuana would receive the same punishment as drunk driving and alcohol-induced destruction of property or endangerment of life. Individual states could determine the specific means and duration of punishment for destructive behavior of drugged individuals, as well as the rate at which to tax the sale of marijuana.

Medical marijuana should be treated the same way as other prescription drugs. Doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana in appropriate amounts as they see fit – not as any state or federal organization sees fit – and it would be at the discretion of doctors and their patients whether or not to use such methods. As such, doctors should not have to obtain licenses from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Instances of drug abuse cannot properly be followed up with government-sponsored treatment, intervention, awareness, or rehabilitation programs. Such “harm reduction” programs would violate the rights of smokers who would be forced to partake in them, and those of tax-payers who would be forced to support them. This approach would also properly apply to underage smokers, who, as stated before, would be punished in the same way that they would be for possessing alcohol, but would not be placed in any of the above-mentioned programs. The extent to which government should concern itself with educational measures should be determined at the local level, where drug education could be provided in optional health classes where public schools exist.

Though the economic benefits of the legalization and taxation of marijuana would be manifest, it is unnecessary to discuss them at length if one’s concern is with individual rights. It will suffice to mention the implications both for border security and the national economy: according to Gary Johnson’s campaign website, “legalizing [marijuana] would result in dramatically reducing the power and wealth of the [Mexican] drug lords, and instantly help to restore stability in a nation… [that] is truly vital to our economic and national security interests”. The legalization of marijuana would also serve the clear benefit of providing revenue to states and reducing crime within our own borders by bringing the marijuana trade above ground.

As such, the legalization of marijuana would reduce crime, create astronomical amounts of revenue, and most importantly, preserve an individual’s right to choose whether or not to grow, obtain, use, or sell marijuana. Any sort of disciplinary action would follow a policy which would mirror that of alcohol[1].

[1] Gary Johnson 2012, Drug Policy Reform

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