THE BLOG

Marijuana Morals

03/28/2006 01:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"There is no fundamental right to distribute, cultivate or possess marijuana," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Quinlivan, the government's lead medical marijuana attorney, wrote to the appeals court.

Good point, Mr. Quinlivan. But surely you'd concede that there is also no fundamental right to confiscate or destroy marijuana, or to imprison those who possess marijuana. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

What the anti-marijuana moralists refuse to accept is that there is zero moral component to medical marijuana -- or marijuana, period. Just as with alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, misuse and abuse and general stupidity can turn a beneficial or morally neutral instrument into a bad thing. With marijuana, though, the "bad" end doesn't kill anybody, not even the abuser, unless you combine it with a car.

There is no legitimate foundation for this government's war on marijuana (like some other wars I could mention). It's based exclusively on imaginary benefits, which make horrible, overreaching laws.

The desperate prohibition rationalists really are stoned, and I want none of what they're smoking. From the White House Drug Policy Web site, which is the only place I've seen the term "peace-loving flower children" this century:

According to officers with the Forest Service and other agencies, many of California's illegal marijuana fields are controlled not by peace-loving flower children but by employees of Mexican drug-trafficking organizations carrying high-powered assault weapons.

Unfortunately, their bad trip (I'm guessing they're huffing gasoline, what with the prez telling us they're all addicted to the stuff) doesn't prevent them from doing violence to generally peaceful others:

There were a total of 1,745,712 state and local arrests for drug abuse violations in the United States during 2004. Of the drug arrests, 5.0% were for marijuana sale/manufacturing and 39.2% were for marijuana possession.

In FY 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made 5,679 arrests related to cannabis, accounting for 20.9% of all DEA arrests during the year. This is an increase from FY 2002, when 5,576 cannabis-related arrests were made by the DEA, accounting for 18.5% of all DEA arrests.

According to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey of Federal and state prisoners approximately 19% of Federal and 13% of state drug offenders were incarcerated for a marijuana-related offense.

There's your law. Almost one in five of the federal jail beds -- which we like to reserve for, you know, terrorists and other profoundly dangerous people -- are crowded with pot smokers, college dorm entrepreneurs, and unlucky botanists. Feel safer? Feel proud? Feel like the DEA might be strawberry coughing its way through its "priorities" meetings?

It's instructive to imagine the prohibitionists' benefit proposition. It's not easy, because the rationale is essentially "because we've done it that way for sixty years." But here goes: by lumping marijuana in with the world's most harmful substances under the law, we can keep a certain number of people from trying it. By keeping those people from trying marijuana, we keep them from possibly enjoying it, which could lead to someone driving a car while impaired, which could lead to someone being hurt or killed. Not a bad argument, really, since nobody wants to see impaired folks driving.

But replace "marijuana" in that argument with any of the following: alcohol, Ambien, energy drinks, religious ecstasy, driving-while-getting-a-blowjob. Precisely the same risks; unconscionably different prohibitions and penalties. You could sure smash up a herd of schoolchildren if you tried to operate a moving vehicle while a good friend bobbed in your lap, but lap-bobbing on its own isn't a crime. In most states, anyway. Driving while impaired, including being impaired by lust, is already and justifiably illegal, not to mention breathtakingly stupid. Where is the societal benefit in jailing, robbing, and, for our medicine-using friends, torturing and killing people who aren't driving while impaired? It doesn't exist.

Or if you're grasping at stems, trying to drum up any "evil" in this popularly smoked flower, you might point to the corporatists' argument: the demon weed drains your ambition. For a very few people, in my experience, this appears true-ish. For many more people, this is demonstrably false. But I'm indulging the paranoiacs, so let's say it's true universally. Does it affect a body's get-up-and-go more than video games, satellite teevee, or cheap bacon quintuple-cheeseburgers? Not in the least. If you're predisposed to be lazy or to go all-out and embrace self-destruction, you don't need marijuana to help. In fact, it probably sucks for the consciously lazy, because it sparks all kinds of creativity and neural growth in the brain which you'd have to smother with something genuinely harmful like alcohol.

The unspoken terror is that a matted-haired, red-eyed someone unacquainted with the workings of a shower will walk up to an old Republican lady on the street and ask her for a buck, startling her a little bit and making her vaguely uncomfy for maybe the whole morning. (Yes, dear-heart, preventing this kind of encounter -- giving Grannie Blue-hair a moment's jolt of adrenaline and/or putting her in a position to get a whiff of brown-people sweat -- is why a butt-load of our laws exist and why we imprison at least some of the millions of Americans we cage.) That scenario is not a hazard of cannabis, though, but rather of homelessness and, maybe, hippiedom. Neither of which is illegal. There is a contingent of the weed demonization promoters who want hippie-ness to be illegal, of course, and they believe that if you starve the hippies of their imagined herbal fuel, you'll eventually wipe them out. (Tip to the hippie-averse: if you really want to wipe out the hippies, eliminate church.)

Folks, the threat of a pothead nation simply doesn't exist. It is a pipe dream. There is no consequence of responsible marijuana use that justifies any of this malicious, violent, immoral prohibition. We need leaders who will assert that the government can't take away selected freedoms simply because they're fun or interesting or they keep Hostess's Twinkie division in business.