Let's take just a moment and consider some fundamental paradoxes within the United States' legal system. We like to think we are the nation of freedom, the nation of get-ahead, the nation of self-made men and women who just have to have a dream in order to thrive. With the Constitution as our founding document, including the Bill of Rights which outlines express guarantees of all sorts of "inalienable" rights such as the freedom to say whatever we want, the freedom to own guns, the freedom to worship whatever god, etc., we like to think of ourselves as a pretty clever nation. Now, nevermind the extent to which those rights have been watered down and whittled away over the years, because what I want to consider is a sort of flaw in our thinking when it comes to what we claim we believe (as opposed to what we actually allow our "servants" to write into law and enforce).
Let's Talk About Pot
So...you can have a gun, because we trust you to handle that responsibly, but you can't have a joint because...you might hurt yourself? I mean, think about it: you might be stupid with a gun and shoot yourself, but you might also be stupid with a gun and kill another human being. You might smoke too much marijuana, in which case I suppose you could fall asleep in the bathtub or forget to go to work, but that's about the extent of it. If we are basing our drug laws on interactions between citizens, there is clearly no reason for marijuana to be illegal. If we are basing them on the possibility that someone might poke their eye out, guns are clearly a bigger risk.
We could get all into the theories about why marijuana was actually made illegal, about the racist motivations for its prohibition and the lumber industry and its lobbying efforts to keep hemp illegal for its own profits. But really, why bother? It doesn't matter here and now. What matters is the idiotic justifications for keeping it illegal, and whether we are going to continue to stomach them.
Perhaps we should clear up a few things right now, just for the sake of not having to argue them later. The detrimental effects of marijuana listed by the White House web site include the following:
- problems with memory and learning
- distorted perception
- difficulty in thinking and problem solving
- loss of coordination
- increased heart rate
- the potential to promote cancer of the lungs
Basically, all the stuff on the government website is about how you might hurt yourself. A lot of it is debatable, such as the assertion that marijuana use impairs long term memory and learning (argued here), and the claims that smoking marijuana increases the risk of cancer (addressed here). But even if you believe the official government claims about the risks, the fact remains that smoking pot is not going to hurt anyone but the user, and we are on very dubious ground if we start appointing ourselves all our brothers' keepers.
Tracking The Bogeymen
If we want to go that route, we have to start looking out for a whole raft of other things. We might begin with making sugar illegal. Sugar causes tooth decay, may increase the chances of becoming diabetic or developing cancer, and has been claimed to be an extremely addictive substance.
After that, we should probably go ahead and outlaw hydrogenated oils, alcohol, tobacco, aspartame, morphine and other potentially addictive substances (talking here about their current legal status for medical use. of course), and...oh, hell. Let's just outlaw all non-organic, processed foods. And mandate that everyone must consume seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Anything less is a burden on the tax payers and the aesthetic sensibilities of the rest of the populace.
Next, we must outlaw television, video games, books, and anything else that may result in people sitting in one place for large parts of their day. Everyone knows we need exercise to stay physically healthy, and there are psychological benefits, as well. While we're at it, let's outlaw long, boring religious ceremonies. The Pentecostals are OK -- their religious ceremonies involve much physical activity, with lots of jumping up and down and clapping of hands. The Catholics and Episcopalians, though (along with the Presbyterian church I got hauled to as a kid), have to go. No more sitting.
So then we need to outlaw cars, planes, and buses. Not only do they encourage a lack of physical exercise, but they also pollute the environment which makes them even worse than marijuana. They actually effect other people.
Now, one could argue, if one were feeling especially argumentative, that marijuana does in fact effect people other than the original user. Think about the children. If kids grow up seeing their parents or older siblings use marijuana, they might use it, too. Direct temptation by demonstration. So, to be fair, we are going to need to get rid of a bunch of other stuff that could lead to temptation to do dangerous things.
We must make illegal all fireworks, gambling accoutrements, flammable substances, electricity, knives, razors, fire...even if kids see adults using these in a responsible way, they may not understand the distinction and may therefore do something dangerous with them. We just can't risk it.
We need to get rid of sexy lingerie, provocative clothing, all porn (including the pics you have taken with your wife), Victoria's Secret catalogues, Abercrombie and Fitch advertising campaigns (and about 75% of all other advertising), condoms, lubricants (yes, including Crisco), sex toys, toe rings, high heels, anklets, and handcuffs (even the ones carried by cops...they will have to make do with
rope duct tape velcro Super Glue). Just seeing this stuff may encourage kids to engage in risky sex acts which could lead directly to them contracting a sexually transmitted disease or otherwise hurting themselves. For safety's sake, all women should wear burkhas, so as not to lead anyone into temptation with their loveliness. Men should probably wear them, too.
Don't You Have Something Better To Do?
OK...we're not near done yet, but take a moment to consider what we have created. In trying to save people from themselves, we have to either regulate everything or draw an arbitrary line in the sand dictating what kinds of potentially dangerous behaviour we may engage in, and what we may not. Usually the line has nothing whatsoever to do with how dangerous an item or substance may be, but rather with what percentage of the population loves it too much to give up.
In 2002, a Time/CNN poll found that 47% of Americans had smoked pot at some point. That's about half of us, and you know that some of the respondents lied (paranoia being one possible side effect of being high...but you knew that, didn't you?). That's a pretty common thing to be illegal. Somehow, in spite of the rampant drug epidemic, we are still managing to get to our jobs, raise our kids, and buy stuff. The only real result of people smoking dope is that we are filling up our jails with people who never did a damned thing to hurt someone else.
The United States currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world. By 2010, we are expected to be holding 3.4 percent of all adults in prison. And yet, violent crime rates have been dropping in recent years. So...why are so many people locked up? In 2005, drug arrests in the U.S. accounted for 1,846,351 of the total 14,094,186 arrests. That's over 13 percent, the highest rate for any category of crime.
It's time we stopped arresting people for no-victim crimes, and started allowing a little more of that freedom we are always going on about. If we are ever to stop looking like the backwoods cousins to the rest of the world, we would benefit from acting like we could think our way through a straight hallway. Stoners don't hurt anybody...though the laws used to prosecute them and the cops arresting them sure as hell do. As Lao-tzu says in the Tao Te Ching:
The greater the number of laws and enactments, the more thieves and robbers there will be.
Let's stop making criminals out of innocents, and start turning our attention to where the real problems lie.