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As marijuana legalization and decriminalization gains traction nationwide — DC this morning, as well as Alaska, the first red state to decriminalize — I can’t help but feel that it is inevitable that my own home state of New Jersey will follow suit sooner rather than later. Although New Jersey can, at times, feel like living in a liberty hinterland, the state’s blueish nature should, at least theoretically, lead to gains on the civil liberties front. Nonetheless, we still find that our politicians rely upon old saws in constructing their political positions on the intoxicant.
For instance, take the claim that marijuana is a gateway drug that will lead to a general decline of society. Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth) is putting together an anti-legalization activist group. Its platform will include arguments relating to “health and incarceration statistics about marijuana users, and questions about additional costs that might be incurred as a result of legalization.”
I’m certain the assemblywoman means well, but, frankly, the tide of facts and history moves against her efforts. Without having the benefit of really being able to parse her incipient group’s position, it seems hard to believe that legalized marijuana will do anything but dry up a significant portion of the criminal trafficking in our state and nation. Thus, at the outset, a major social cost related to enforcing prohibition disappears — if not overnight, then very quickly.
No doubt, there would be health care costs borne by society for people who choose to smoke marijuana — but society must already bearing those costs. I am not a user of marijuana, but I am pretty sure someone within my immediate circle is and could get it for me. Prohibition has not done much to dissuade users, it has only provided a steady supply of inmates to prisons. Thus, whatever healthcare costs marijuana imposes are already being imposed, and prohibition has done nothing to stop that.
Further, granting the assemblywoman’s belief that the use of marijuana will be similar to the use of alcohol — and thus may require police to become involved in domestic disputes because combatants are high — the argument is still unpersuasive. Society must surely already be dealing with this problem (if it even exists).
Further, the logical implications on this point are disturbing. The assemblywoman directly draws a parallel to the use of alcohol in citing the undesirability of citizens having legal access to marijuana. The implication lurking behind this — though I am not at all certain it is what the assemblywoman intended — is that prohibition as a general social policy should be more extensive. Maybe it should include alcohol?
In a free society, we need to put up with each other’s vices so long as they do not directly harm or interfere with our lives. I would expect my neighbor not to get high around my kids or blow smoke in my face, just the same way I would expect him not to tie one on and stumble around my yard completely drunk. I would never expect my neighbor to be unable to drink or smoke whatever he wanted on his own property or with his own social circles.
Yes, there are healthcare costs to smoking (anything), just like there are healthcare costs to skydiving, being obese, serving food with peanuts, playing hockey… and so on. Life itself is a risky proposition, and our means of controlling our fear of death and the unknown cannot be to rob it of all flavor. We are surely more mature than that as a people.
(edited to add in “decriminalization” as per EJ’s comment below)