“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4 (or July 2), 1776 as a legal justification for the American Revolution which had been a reality for a whole year at the time of the document’s execution. It was, in a sense, the crystallization of political thought among Revolutionary leaders, British subjects all residing in thirteen disparate British colonies.
The Declaration drew heavily upon principles espoused by Social Contract theorists, most notably John Locke. Essentially, subjecting oneself to the authority of a centralized authority is the price paid in return for protection of one’s “life, health, liberty or possessions.” It is the alternative to the State of Nature and the law of the jungle. It does not envision governmental intrusion into the daily lives of the governed.
I have no political philosophy other than what I call Civil Libertarianism, and I’ve never seen it suitably classified or defined to capture, exactly, my belief. I (and you) should be free to take any action that I wish, so long as it does no harm to another. “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins,” said Abraham Lincoln, or Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. or somebody who knew how to turn a phrase.
I’ve been thinking about Social Contract Theory a lot lately, no, really. My musings are colored by my deep-rooted mistrust of government and, especially, politicians, none of whom are qualified to tell me what to do or not do.
It all started when I began researching House Bill 14, currently proposed in the Louisiana legislature. The bill would lessen the criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, not decriminalize, but merely lessen. The problem, as I see it, is that the proposal does not go nearly far enough.
Marijuana possession, and consumption, should be legal.
In the interest of full disclosure I feel it necessary at this point to tell you a bit about me because it may color your perception of me and my opinions to follow. I am an addict and an alcoholic. At the time of this writing I have not used in seven years, nine months and seven days. I have not had a drink in almost four years. Unfortunately, marijuana was never my drug of choice as I preferred Crown Royal and crack cocaine. I could have been spared much hardship had I preferred marijuana.
The fact of the matter is, crack probably saved my life. I sincerely believe that I would have drunk myself to death had I not found a drug which I preferred.
I was also a criminal defense lawyer in Ascension Parish who relied heavily on clients charged with drug-related crimes for my livelihood.
That being said, I can think of no legitimate governmental interest which is served by the criminalization of marijuana. I find it instructive to consider how this vegetation became illegal in the first place.
The individual most responsible for its prohibition is a guy named Harry J. Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger held his post from 1930 until 1962. He was the first to demonize marijuana, often inflaming racial animosity to do so.
“Two Negroes took a girl, fourteen years old, and kept her for two days under the influence of hemp. Upon recovery she was found to have syphilis,” Anslinger would write anecdotally in the early-1930s.
He also played upon American antipathy toward Mexican, migrant farm workers who used marijuana. Sound familiar?
“Marijuana is a short cut to the insane asylum,” Anslinger also wrote. “Smoke marijuana for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters.”
He created a marijuana hysteria which is captured in the cult-classic movie, Reefer Madness. An afternoon of pot-smoking and the immediate result is murder, suicide, rape and overall descent into madness. If you are a fan of camp, Reefer Madness, is the campiest.
His disinformation campaign continues to this day.
Anslinger’s theories were soon discredited by the La Guardia Committee, which conducted the first scientific study of cannabis under the auspices of New York City mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. But the die was cast. In 1970 Congress passed the Controlled Dangerous Substances Act which classified marijuana as a Schedule I substance having “a high potential for abuse” with “no currently accepted medical use.”
The fact that the legislation was pushed by the Nixon Administration should give us all pause.
I find it hard to believe that marijuana’s medical benefits are still being debated, and I won’t weigh in except to say one thing. When an individual who suffers from any ailment believes that marijuana will alleviate his/her suffering or improve a condition, that individual should not be denied the right to use marijuana. The right to choose one’s course of treatment should be sacrosanct.
What most irks me about the criminalization of marijuana, and the entire “War on Drugs” for that matter, is the hypocrisy.
I spent 117 days in a rehab facility which specialized in treatment for those subject to professional licensing/regulatory bodies. The Bar Association had issued me an ultimatum. The majority of my fellow inmates, er, patients were from the medical community where they had ready access to the opiates which dominate the world of prescription medication.
I suspect that the pharmaceutical lobby would shift into high gear if legislation was ever proposed to outlaw Oxycontin, or Percocet, or Loritab, or Oxycodone, or…you get the picture.
I was in the vast minority because I got my dope the old-fashioned way, from street dealers. But the rest obtained their fix via prescription or raiding the medicine cabinet at the hospital or medical facility where they worked. In my four-month stint there I probably met, conservatively, 200 fellow substance abusers. Not a single one was there because of marijuana abuse. Many were there due to alcoholism.
But marijuana is the Gateway Drug which leads unsuspecting youth to try the harder stuff, or so the argument goes. “Nonsense,” I say. If there is a Gateway Drug, it is alcohol.
I can think of no rationale which effectively argues in favor of regulating marijuana any differently than alcohol, but let’s consider a few.
Legalization would mean ready availability which would equal more users. “So what?” I say. Legalize, regulate and tax the marijuana trade. Not only would it save billions currently expended on policing efforts and incarceration, it would generate substantial tax revenue. I’m not convinced that usage would be that much greater in any event. Would you become a marijuana user if it was legal?
Has the “War on Drugs” prevented any drug use? Every week in The Creole’s arrest reports I read of clandestine meth labs.
Legalization would result in rising health care costs. “Says who?” See above. I would argue that the tax revenue would more than offset any spike in health care costs. Alcohol was much more destructive to my health than any other substance I abused, including crack cocaine and heroin.
As a matter of fact, some of the highest functioning people I’ve ever known are frequent, often daily, marijuana users.
You want to talk about out of control health care costs. Obesity costs this nation more than the effects of marijuana use ever could. Yet, no one is proposing that saturated fats or corn syrup should be illegal. Maybe we should be having that debate.
You think the agribusiness lobby would have anything to say about it?
Legalization would lead to more violent crime. This is the one that makes me laugh out loud. I’ve known hundreds, maybe thousands, of pot-smokers. They were the most mellow, peace-loving people I’ve ever known. A dear friend of mine calls his pot-smoking “the pursuit of Happiness.”
You know who the violent ones are? Abusers of alcohol and I include myself in this group.
Not to mention, legalization would put illegal marijuana dealers out of business, thereby further reducing a violent element. That wouldn’t be good for the DEA’s annual budget allocation, though. Most of these pro-marijuana legalization arguments could just as easily be applied to other illegal drugs and I’d have no issue with their legalization, either.
Cease the incarceration of drug users and free up the jail cells for violent offenders who I think should be subject to even harsher sentences.
For me, though, it is strictly a matter of civil liberties and I do not want the government telling me what to do.