Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will soon decide whether or not marijuana will be legalized in their states. More and more conservative and libertarian politicians are getting behind the movement to legalize pot. Anti-immigration stalwart Tom Tancredo from Colorado and libertarians Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are high on that list (pun intended).
Tancredo asks, “What is the law against marijuana if it isn’t the nanny state telling you what you can do and what you can’t do to your body and with your body?” I know there are many opinions and perspectives that pro-pot people would cite to make a compelling argument. But I think Tancredo’s question just about sums up the whole debate, including why society feels it’s important to “legislate morality.”
Let me remind my conservative and libertarian friends that the whole purpose of law is to legislate morality. The whole intellectual and logical framework of law is to address the everyday realities when two or more humans interact and what is best for people as human beings and best for them when they interact. That’s the purpose of law and it’s all based in morality. No thoughtful or reasonable person wants himself or another human being to be cut short of their human potential. By the way, for critics of liberal arts education, that’s why philosophy and ethics are essential classes – to study how we might become better human beings in the quest for human excellence.
And then we have the pot supporters who, whether they smoke it or not, haven’t a clue about any of that become-your-better-self stuff. For many of them it’s all about personal liberty or fiscal management and for the others it’s all about getting high. Like Tancredo said, for libertarians and lapsed conservatives, it’s mostly about autonomy – do we really want a nanny state telling us what we can and cannot do with and to our bodies? – which is why libertarians and liberals partner so well on social issues such as homosexuality, pornography, gambling and abortion.
These liberty-loving friends of ours always have had a very difficult time with practical reasonableness – the ability to define personhood and reason our way to human excellence. They are skeptics about human excellence. They think there’s no sense in trying to define what a human being is and certainly not what they should be doing because everyone has their own opinions and such diversity precludes agreement on even the most serious of subjects. Politicize that skepticism and things only get worse – you actually get to a point where otherwise reasonable people, even people of deep faith as it suits them, fight to defend the right for human beings to be their worst selves.
As I’ve said before, there may be many practical reasons to stop the “war on drugs” or find other reasonable ways to decriminalize what are really health issues. But there’s only one practical reason to legalize marijuana, and that’s when human beings deteriorate so much in intellect and culture that accommodating drug use is a last-gasp effort to protect a modicum of order until natural forces in society can reclaim humanity.
Think about it, folks, there is something deeply disturbing and fundamentally wrong about people of faith, virtue and good character – people who claim to believe in becoming better human beings personally and who acknowledge this necessity in behalf of a free society – who, nevertheless, choose the side of behaviors that have just the opposite effect. These lapsed conservatives and devout libertarians think they’re simply honoring liberty and acting neutrally under the law. The truth is they’re choosing sides. By supporting the legalization of marijuana, they are choosing to endorse behavior that diminishes personhood just because they wrongly value personal liberty above human excellence and, as a result, they’re endorsing diminishment of freedom. A sad irony.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.