Legalize drugs, delegalize our culture

Sam Smith

After listening to two friends debate the legalization of marijuana (the opponent, incidentally, sipping some vodka as he did so), I was reminded again of the degree to which we have become addicted to the law as a primary way to solve life’s problems.

From the multi-page documents we accept unread in order to get our new computer software going to the soaring number of laws being passed at every government level we have, without philosophical discussion or debate, let the law and its practitioners gain unprecedented control over our lives.

You don’t have to be a libertarian to be stunned by the fact, for example, that about 40,000 state laws were passed in 2012.

This is not a legal or political issue, it is a philosophical and cultural one. Why have we let lawyers and the law intrude so deeply into areas that were once taught, defined and promulgated by family, church, community and education?

Consider this from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project:

Around the country, school administrators, elected officials, and prosecutors are tackling the truancy problem through the criminal justice system, ratcheting up enforcement, slapping students and parents with big-dollar fines, and threatening jail time. Atlanta, Georgia, and Lynchburg, Virginia sharpened their truancy policies this year with the aim of increasing prosecutions. In Detroit, Los Angeles, and Compton, the police sweep the streets for truants and enforce daytime curfew laws.

… The absurdities of harsh truancy policies made headlines in May when a Houston-area judge jailed Diane Tran, 17, for missing too much school and fined her $100. News reports revealed that Tran was an 11thgrade honor student working two jobs to support siblings after her parents divorced and moved out of state. Tran’s treatment attracted the public’s attention, but thousands of students and their parents are regularly churned through similar courts without public scrutiny of the process, its costs, or its effectiveness.

In this instance, the victims are typically lower income and/or minority students, a bias seen elsewhere in our system, including the enforcement of marijuana laws.

But beyond that problem is a more general one. Why do we turn over to the law so easily matters that we once looked to parents, priests, teachers and social workers to solve? How can you have a decent community or country if the major influence towards doing the right thing has become the brutal remedies of the judicial and police systems?

And would you have been a better person if you had received jail time or fines for various offenses you committed along the way?

It’s a question we seldom discuss, argue about or examine in a rational way.

The reason why marijuana laws are such a good case in point is because they simply haven’t worked. And we didn’t even have to go through four decades of a failed war on drugs to find that out. We had ample precedent in alcohol prohibition.

Obviously, if you’re a parent, you don’t want your sub-teen smoking pot or your teenager driving under its influence. But how can you arrive at a sensible approach to this when the major solution presented is a legal one?

What if we applied the same approach to doing homework or kids not putting food back in the refrigerator?

Just as with alcohol, you can have obvious points at which the law enters – such as driving under the influence – but our current culture not only uses the law as surrogate parents, teachers and community values, but does so even when it’s patently clear that it’s not working.

Some years back I suggested that a good urban planning principle would be to look for things that normally honest people do that are illegal, such as the 40,000 illegal accessory apartments in Los Angeles at that time. Or that in my neighborhood there was a business block where people normally double parked, but only right in front of the store where they were picking up their cleaning or whatever and only for a short while. The cops, I noticed, left this block alone.

Using marijuana falls into a similar category. At least three of our most recent presidents have used pot and/or even cocaine. Whatever their political faults, drug use did not seem to be prominent among them.

We have ruined far more lives criminalizing marijuana than have been hurt by using it, but we were taught by increasingly bullying politicians, police and their supporting media that this was the way to solve the problem.

It’s way past time not only to legalize marijuana but delegalize the way we approach such issues.

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