This time last year, Gallup reported that “For the First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana.” In 1969, just 12 percent of Americans favored legalization; now, nearly five decades later, a full 58 percent support legalizing the drug.
Marijuana legalization supporters like to think of themselves as advocates for “liberty.” Ignoring a host of scientific and psychological data against marijuana, proponents use popularized phrases like “live and let live” and “you can’t legislate morality” to make rather compelling, simple, and open-minded arguments for legalization.
Lost in the noise and this twisted conception of liberty are the facts. For instance, WhiteHouse.gov, (yes, President Obama’s WhiteHouse.gov), lists the ruinous effects of marijuana use on society. Among the White House’s findings are the fact that “[i]n 2010, marijuana was involved in more than 461,000 emergency department visits nationwide. This is nearly 39 percent of all emergency department visits involving illicit drugs.” Moreover, the White House notes “adolescents’ long-term use of marijuana may be linked with lower IQ (as much as an 8 point drop) later in life.”
Also ignored is the British Lung Foundation’s finding that “just three cannabis joints a day cause the same damage as 20 cigarettes.” To round out this less than glowing view of marijuana use is the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 62-page “Position on Marijuana,” which aggregates no fewer than 200 medical and sociological studies on the dangerous effects of marijuana use.
As Dr. Glen Hanson put it: “To use [marijuana] is to take chemical shortcuts to the brain’s pleasure center. It is not like riding a roller coaster or jumping out of an airplane. This is adding chemicals to your brain, not inducing a normal sensation. You are changing the way it normally functions and, in effect, creating a mental disorder. The brain bounces and bounces and finally stops bouncing back to normal.”
Advocates often set this data aside and resort to the argument that “marijuana is no worse than alcohol.” But it would be simplistic to view the pro-marijuana rationale so narrowly, for it goes far deeper than that.
The marijuana movement rests on a dangerous conception of liberty, setting a harmful precedent that will be used to advocate legalization of a variety of vice crimes. Vice crimes are purportedly victimless crimes banned only because of arbitrary and archaic moral notions – prostitution and drug use are two examples.
The legalization of marijuana is a proxy war, setting the stage for legalization of a variety of these other vice crimes. If successful, the twisted notion of liberty used to support legalization will be the principle mechanism for legalizing vice at the expense of virtue.
This backwards conception of liberty is diametrically opposite of the type of liberty our forefathers so conceived. Benjamin Franklin said, “[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” John Adams echoed, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”
On a similar note, Aristotle wisely observed that while there is a connection between character and law, the aim of law is not to make the lawbreaker virtuous but to “protect civic virtue between citizens,” says Professor Ekow N. Yankah. Thus, criminalizing drug use or prostitution does not seek to instill virtue in the drug user or the prostitute. Rather, it protects civic virtue. It protects children from the absentee drug-ridden parents and the female gender from sexual exploitation.
In this sense, criminalizing vice is not about depriving the drug user of liberty; instead, it is about liberating society from the civic harm the vice is bound to create.
Blinded by this idea of unbridled liberty, advocates for legalization either choose to ignore or fail to see the havoc they wreak. Liberty is in vogue today, but the perverse conception of liberty that legalization proponents embrace is a dangerous and pervasive narcotic that will extinguish virtue for the sake of vice.