The Morality of Marijuana Laws

There is hardly a shortage of opinions on marijuana these days. You don’t have to look far to see a mainstream news source publishing news stories and opinion pieces on the changing marijuana tides. But a Washington Post op-ed and a response to it in The Atlantic recently brought up some interesting points.

In writing for the Washington Post, Peter Wehner cautioned that if drugs (including marijuana) became legal, the “price will go down and use will go up.” He argues that marijuana is highly dangerous and can significantly affect brain development in teens. But what he also says is that the drug is “morally problematic”, that what it can “do to mind and soul” should be cause for alarm despite the fact that the “language of morality is ridiculed” in some circles.

In response, Conor Friedersdorf says in The Atlantic that the war on marijuana is far more immoral than marijuana itself. That a consenting adult should be able to light up a joint or eat some pot brownies, making their own moral choices. The response of militarized police and imprisonment is the truly unethical part. Friedersdorf speaks to Wehner:

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that many advocates of individual liberty, myself included, regard liberty itself as a moral imperative. I don’t want to ridicule the “language of morality.” I want to state, as forcefully as possible, that the War on Drugs is deeply, irredeemably immoral; that it corrodes the minds and souls of those who prosecute it, and creates incentives for bad behavior that those living under its contours have always and will always find too powerful to resist. Drug warriors may disagree, but they should not pretend that they are the only ones making moral claims, and that their opponents are indifferent to morality. Reformers are often morally outraged by prohibitionist policies and worry that nannying degrades the character of citizens.

SONY DSCOn a scale of immorality, Friedersdorf is right, the war on drugs is far more immoral than drug use itself. A victimless crime is hardly a grievous sin, but the response to drug use or drug violations does have a victim and that victim is the defendant himself. Whether he is locked away, brutalized by cops, or used as an informant, he becomes the victim of what would otherwise be a victim-less crime.

But, what both men are missing is the fact that determining laws solely on the basis of morality is ineffective. If the government chooses what is moral and what is not through the criminal laws, we are back to what our founding fathers were running from.

The legalization of marijuana should be based on the fact that we, and we alone, should make our own moral decisions so long as they do no harm to others. And the last I checked, if I wanted to smoke some pot, no one but me would be coughing.




About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Renter is a freelance writer and editor who writes about criminal justice issues.

Follow me on Google+

  • Kevin Jones

    Even more immoral than executing the practices of prohibition against any drug user, is the equal execution of such practices against the innocent levied in the name of prohibition against only drug users. For every arrest, every search, every seizure of property, how many innocent civilians have been subject to the same force and fear tactics?
    Far beyond the immoral treatment of those who choose to consume, is vast execution against those who may well wholeheartedly support in fiscal and conceptual absolutes, the very practice being executed against them.
    This is very much like paying a hitman to kill without any directive. Why would he not just kill the payer and take the money for a job well done?
    Well, how many innocent victims of prohibition practices ever stand up for the very fact that their rights are unjustly violated? What if 9 out of 10 hours of prohibitionist actions are executed against the innocent simply to find the 10th? Is it worth it? Is it moral?
    Just because the innocent do not often seek retribution does not mean they haven’t suffered immoral and illegal practices.

  • David Matson

    Excellent points, Kevin. Agree 100%.
    Thanks for commenting!