For over 200 years, the American government has ostensibly sought to protect every citizen’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In other words, as long as they don’t infringe upon the rights of others, human beings ought to have the freedom to choose their lifestyle. Doing so is crucial to individual happiness as well as social progress.
This core tenet of American democratic thought is being denied in many instances, but one in particular has been irking me lately. Any citizen who believes alcohol and tobacco use, as currently regulated, should be a free choice cannot deny without contradiction that marijuana ought to be legalized.
What most people believe about alcohol and tobacco already justifies marijuana legalization. Consider what we know: Alcohol and tobacco have adverse health consequences, for either the consumer or those around them. Alcohol impairs a user’s ability to perform some common tasks safely, such as driving a car or caring for a child. Both are chemically and psychologically addictive. Yet, many adults still choose to consume alcohol or tobacco, because it is a part of their chosen lifestyle. Legal restrictions are designed to protect that choice while mitigating its potential harms.
Marijuana is healthier, safer and less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. Recent scientific studies, only a select few of which I can cite here, are challenging misinformed cultural beliefs about the drug.
For example, the BBC recently reported that David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and former chairman of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, publicly recanted his government’s position on the drug, arguing, “It is safer than tobacco and alcohol and, overall, does not lead to major health problems.” Alcohol is far more toxic than marijuana – just 10 times the standard dose can kill you. There has never been a reported death from marijuana overdose. While the negative effects of the smoking medium apply to both cigarettes and marijuana, cannabis users can avoid the risk of lung cancer by baking with it instead.
According to a 1999 report in the Institute of Medicine, fewer than 10 percent of marijuana users become dependent on the drug, whereas 32 percent of tobacco and 15 percent of alcohol users meet the criteria for addiction. Cannabis addiction is primarily psychological rather than chemical, in contrast to tobacco and alcohol addiction, which is usually both.
The “gateway drug” myth rests on faulty logic. While it’s true most users of harder drugs started with marijuana (and probably alcohol or tobacco), the vast majority of marijuana users never move on to those drugs. If marijuana could be purchased via a regulated, legal market, users wouldn’t come into contact with cocaine or heroine dealers at all, thus avoiding the pressure or persuasion to try more dangerous narcotics.
Marijuana use in both the short and long term can be detected, making restrictions easy to enforce. It should be illegal to consume cannabis under a certain age, while driving or while caring for a child. Treating this drug the way we do alcohol and tobacco can decrease its harmful effects while giving users the freedom to pursue their lifestyle choices.
According to federal government statistics, more than 100 million Americans have tried marijuana, 25 million have used it in the past year, and 14 million consume cannabis regularly. Any law disobeyed by 100 million citizens is bad public policy because it erodes the rule of law. The benefits to our economy via a hemp and cannabis industry, as well as reduced government spending in the War on Drugs, are obvious, but legalization is justified regardless.
Our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are enough to warrant legalization of marijuana. So be a good patriot – vote in favor of legalization, privilege science over sensationalism and toke up if you want.
–Beth Mendenhall is a senior in philosophy and political science while pursuing alternative lifestyles! Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.