Legalizing Marijuana Is Not a Big Mistake

Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012. Delaware and Minnesota this year joined twenty-one other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing recreational marijuana. This was accomplished in both states by legislation instead of the usual ballot measure.

California was the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1996. Kentucky this year joined thirty-seven other states and the five U.S. territories in legalizing medical marijuana. This was also achieved by legislation.

The recreational and medical use of marijuana are both illegal in the states of Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Notwithstanding the states, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use,” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.” Possessing, growing, transporting, or distributing marijuana is a federal felony, with violations resulting in fines and/or imprisonment. And the Supreme Court, in the case of Gonzales v. Raich (2005), has ruled that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana possession and use for any and all purposes.

New York Times opinion columnist Ross Douthat not only wants to keep it that way, he believes that the states’ legalizing marijuana is a big mistake. Douthat is a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, “where he studies American politics, culture, religion, and family life.” He is also a film critic at National Review.

Douthat is distressed that public support for marijuana legalization has climbed. He believes that “marijuana legalization as we’ve done it so far has been a policy failure, a potential social disaster, a clear and evident mistake.”

Legalization “isn’t necessarily striking a great blow against mass incarceration or for racial justice,” nor “is it doing great things for public health.” And of course, marijuana has the risks it has always had: “The broad downside risks of marijuana, beyond extreme dangers like schizophrenia, remain as evident as ever: a form of personal degradation, of lost attention and performance and motivation, that isn’t mortally dangerous in the way of heroin but that can damage or derail an awful lot of human lives.”

Douthat refers his readers to “an essay by Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute explaining his evolution from youthful libertarian to grown-up prohibitionist.” He acknowledges that the essay “will not convince readers who come in with stringently libertarian presuppositions—who believe on high principle that consenting adults should be able to purchase, sell and enjoy almost any substance short of fentanyl and that no second-order social consequence can justify infringing on this right.”

But Douthat has it wrong. Libertarians believe on principle that consenting adults should be able to purchase, sell and enjoy any substance including fentanyl and that no second-order social consequence can justify infringing on this right.

There should be no laws at any level of government for any reason regarding the buying, selling, growing, processing, transporting, manufacturing, advertising, using, possessing, or “trafficking” of any drug for any reason.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that the use of marijuana or any other drug is not harmful, dangerous, addictive, immoral, risky, or foolish. It just means that it is none of the government’s business as long as in doing so one doesn’t infringe upon the personal or property rights of others.

It is not the purpose of government to prevent people from engaging in bad habits, risky behavior, or immoral activities; protect people from harmful substances, unhealthy practices, or dangerous activities; or prohibit what people can buy, sell, or consume.

Liberty is never a mistake.

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