Friday, October 25, 2013

When Pot is Legal Everywhere

Over the years, I have nurtured my inner libertarian.  My embrace of liberty has less to do with theory and more to do with my attitude of “leave me alone.”  Unlike Thoreau who suggested, “That government is best which governs not at all,” I believe in limited government.  I want government to be competent and active but only in the areas that are proper for it.  I also give more latitude to local government.  If the people of New York or California want to destroy the business climate, at least people can move somewhere else.  

Nevertheless, there is a favorite issue among libertarians that I just don’t get excited about—the legalization of drugs.  I am sympathetic to the plight of non-violent drug offenders sitting behind prison bars, and I favor local control on the issue.  However, libertarians often don’t acknowledge the realities surrounding the issue of legalization.

I enjoy reading, and I appreciate Nick Gillespie’s writing there.  However, I was a little surprised at his column on Time’s website entitled, “8 Things We Won’t Miss When Pot is Legal Everywhere.”  With legalization, he argues, certain annoyances will disappear.

  1. “Vapid anti-drug commercials.”  Currently the U.S. government provides subsidies to growers of a legal substance while paying money for anti-smoking campaigns.  I do not imagine that those anti-drug commercials are going anywhere.  Even if government dropped its public health role, I wouldn’t discourage non-profits to spend advertising dollars to encourage teenagers to stay off drugs.
  2. "Ritual apologies by world-class athletes.” Private organizations such as Major League Baseball or the National Football League already regulate drug use beyond the laws. I don’t expect that to change. Likewise, sponsors hoping to protect their brands often regulate the private behavior of athletes. Legalization does not imply social acceptance. Take a look at tobacco.
  3. “Breath-taking personal hypocrisy by politicians.” I would hope that Gillespie is correct here. It is annoying that the rich and powerful can get away with smoking pot in their youth, but the poor today get incarcerated. However, I don’t know that legalization will make a huge difference in the hypocrisy of politicians.
  4. “Long federal prison sentences for legitimate business owners.” This might happen with legalization, but we must acknowledge that there will be regulation of pot. Legalization will only go so far. For example, no one argues that pot should be available to 5 year olds. I would guess that marijuana will be as regulated as firmly as alcohol or tobacco if not more.
  5. “People denied medical marijuana treatments.” I never understood the issue of medical marijuana. If marijuana has any medicinal benefit, it should be allowed under a doctor’s care. However, I would never assume that marijuana will be treated different than other drugs. The state will continue to regulate both the drug and the delivery system.
  6. “Arguments that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’.” Marijuana use doesn’t necessary lead to harder drug use. However, there is a strong correlation between marijuana use and drug use like cocaine. Granted, correlation is not causation. Nonetheless, society will need to address the negative effects of marijuana use. If the government will not be making that argument, I know that churches, charities, or even businesses will do so.
  7. “Arrests for simple possession.” This is probably the only thing on the list that will actually disappear “when pot is legal everywhere.” However, social costs associated with drug abuse and driving intoxicated will still be with us. Society will search for other ways to address these concerns. That might mean a stronger social welfare state for those who cannot hold jobs or are in need of rehabilitation. It also might mean higher automobile insurance or medical insurance premiums. It might mean fewer qualified candidates for jobs.
  8. “Drug raids that go wrong.” Legalization will not make tragedies disappear. Granted that police will be spending less time looking for drugs. However, their job will become much more stressful and intrusive. For example, I don’t anticipate that laws against driving while intoxicated will go away. However, checking a person for marijuana is much harder than giving someone a Breathalyzer test for alcohol. Police will need blood or urine samples.
At the very end of the article, Nick Gillespie acknowledges that “Legalizing pot won’t create a problem-free country”. That is quite a concession. I am quite willing to entertain the legalization of marijuana. However, waving a magic wand and making drug laws disappear will not change the underlying reasons for that legislation. I would guess that there are be better solutions outside prosecution and incarceration. However, we need to have a conversation about those solutions before we get rid of those laws.