I repeated my New Year's Day tradition of proposing cannabis law reform in Missouri and America last Wednesday. The post has generated a lot of serious discussion. I have to thank, especially, Dennis Broadbooks and Lisa, Culture Vigilante, for raising valid issues. Many others commented as well. I will work through your comments as the blizzard rolls through this weekend. But I wanted to pull my reply to Dennis and Lisa and to link directly to their most salient comments.
Dennis and Lisa,
I’ll work through your points one by one. Though I’m responding directly to Dennis’s I’m combining several points.
1. Social Symbolism of Legalization: Dennis writes, “If we legalize something as a society that’s previously been banned, it sends a signal to our youth that it’s OK. It’s even desireable.” Perhaps some will. More, I believe, would take the move as tacit acknowledge that America’s draconian cannabis laws were wrong to begin with.
Further, it seems to me that prohibition takes away the meaning of abstinence. If I don’t smoke dope because it’s against the law, I’m merely obeying the law. If I don’t smoke dope because of its purported negative effects on me or society, I’m setting an example. In this sense, the cannabis debate mirrors speed limits. Recently, Illinois raised its maximum speed limit to 70 MPH from 55. Is that an endorsement of fast driving? And how long will that perceived endorsement hold any meaning? My kids don’t remember a time when Missouri’s limit was 55, so the change in the speed limit law in Missouri has no endorsement effect on them.
2. The Fiscal Argument. You go on to say, “You’re attempting to make an fiscal argument for the legalization of pot & I say there’s just as valid a case economically against it.” Here, I’ll ask to see your numbers. The total cost of prohibition in Missouri is about $150 million a year according to Harvard and Cato Institute researcher Jeffrey Miron. You seem to imply that legalization of cannabis in Missouri would cost more than $150 million in increased medical and other costs. But even opponents of cannabis law reform admit that studies indicate that cannabis use is less physically harmful legal substances like alcohol and tobacco. It is unlikely that the combined costs of cannabis regulation and medical treatment would eclipse the $150 million in savings from ending prohibition.
3. Abortion vs. Cannabis. I’m not sure how Roe v. Wade relates to this case, but I will add something. Cannabis prohibition seeks to deny individuals the privilege of growing and smoking cannabis. It’s government vs. the individual. But the abortion debate is another matter, morally speaking. In that case, abortion opponents ask government to intervene in the murder of a human being. The two issues couldn’t be more different.
4. On the Divisiveness of Prohibition. Lisa writes, “I think this is a very divisive issue that should be set aside until we get on a more constitutional track. Republicans/Conservatives/Libertarians are busy enough trying to fight progressivism without brining the right to get high into the debate.” That’s a good question. I debated this for a long time, considering I’ve been writing a semi-regular column since 1993. I chose to make it an issue on January 1, 2013 for a very simple reason: I believe proponents of constitutionally limited government lose credibility among persuadable potential voters (especially younger people) when we oppose cannabis law reform. We lose more credibility when we choose to simply ignore the issue and hope it goes away.
Considering the history of cannabis prohibition, I could argue that it is a glaring symbol of progressivism, shoved onto America by FDR’s regulators looking for fix after the Volstead Act and Amendment 18 went away.
The fact is, others are making this an issue. Democrats are winning elections by hijacking what should be a center-right position to draw otherwise disinterested voters to polls. By championing cannabis law reform, just as we champion other regulatory reforms, we have the chance to at least neutralize the Democrats’ tactic.
I think Reason.com is more likely to draw young voters into the fight for individual liberty against a progressive statist attack on freedom. By boldly announcing our willingness to right this wrong, we become more consistent and, thereby, more convincing and attractive.
In short, if (lower-case 'L') libertarians were to get this issue out of the way, we'd find much easier sledding on the other issues.
UPDATE: Thanks to Gateway City for the link from UrbanSTL. I encourage readers to check the comments on that post.