My opposition to legalizing some behaviors in which — on pure principle — I believe people ought to be free to engage has to do with present context. On occasions when my family entertains visitors, they are of course free to leave whenever they want, but if one of them is drunk, I might try to prevent his driving away, or if I knew the neighborhood was under the watch of a murderous sniper, I might try to prevent all of my guests from going outside, even if they didn’t believe me.
So, just as there is a legal process involving legislation, regulation, promulgation of new instructions to law enforcement, licensing of dealers, and so on, to making marijuana legal, so too are there changes we should make in the culture first. In the society that we have created (in large part by giving government too much authority to restrict our behavior), too many of our cultural supports have eroded to bear a suddenly restored access to potentially self-destructive rights.
These rapid changes in a newer context can have consequences well beyond individual harm. Consider the governor’s proposed expansion of medical marijuana:
The expansion is projected to raise $5.1 million in revenue for the state, and would help close the budget hole caused by a mismatch between spending and expected revenue. The expansion is expected to raise $1.1 million in additional sales tax revenue from retail sales at the new compassion centers, $180,565 in additional tax revenue from new patients who qualify as having acute pain, and $248,157 in sales tax revenues from Massachusetts and Connecticut cardholders.
The addition of acute pain as an eligible condition is expected to add up to 16,000 patients, nearly doubling the number of cardholders.
Compassion centers also pay a 4% surcharge on purchases, along with licensing fees. Patients pay an annual fee of $50 to be a cardholder, and a $25 tag fee for each plant, which was added last year.
In short, the government has a revenue source, and this move would expand its customer base. That’s not freedom; it’s pushing. Suddenly, the story of drugs begin to be framed as one in which it’s a good thing for more people to become users, and in fact, we start hearing calls that the product shouldn’t even be taxed because, doggone it, allowing drug use is an act of mercy. The problem, here, is that we’re mixing our signals, and that is because the law is leading the culture, not the other way around.
This is going to sound odd, because we’re not used to thinking in these terms, but modifying the circumstances gives a different perspective. For this purpose, I direct you to a song titled, “I Feel Fantastic,” by a great, humorous indy singer-songwriter, Jonathan Coulton. The idea behind the lyrics is that the narrator takes some sort of prescription drug to accomplish every step of his day, from waking up to driving to eating steak. One pill is for social anxiety, and it occurs to me that many people use alcohol for exactly that purpose. So why shouldn’t alcohol be a tax-free “medicine” for people with that psychological affliction?
It isn’t difficult to imagine a society in which even prescription drugs don’t require, well, prescriptions, because the culture so thoroughly fosters intelligent behavior. Of course, imagination is one thing and making something possible is another, but we at least ought to be heading in that direction before we start legalizing them. As it is, we’re moving toward a society in which our governing elites clearly want to increase dependence on them; legalizing drugs in that context too perfectly serves that intention, whatever the rhetoric may be.