One Small, but Complicated, Area of Perverse Effects Legalizing Marijuana


As I’ve written before, I’m not opposed to legalizing marijuana in principle.  As always with social policy, though, the key questions are how one transitions from the current policy to another that allows something previously forbidden and under what social and cultural conditions it would be wise to allow the change.

As the push to legalize marijuana gains strength (even as the state government proves itself again and again to be corrupt and inept), one can’t help but feel we’re making the lunge in detrimental cultural circumstances and with a political class that is much too focused on finding new money and labeling itself “progressive” to be trusted to spot the unintended consequences.

Consider thoughts expressed by Burrillville Police High School Resource Officer David Beauchemin, talking to Elizabeth Harrison of Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) in October:

Here’s the kicker, and these kids are starting to figure this out. In fact, a couple of kids have told me this.  With the marijuana, now, if you get caught with marijuana, it’s a citation.  You get a citation; you go to court; and most of the time it’s just a fine, and they might get some counseling or something like that.  If you get caught with alcohol, you get criminally charged as a minor in possession.  So they know, if I get caught with alcohol, I’m going to family court; if I get caught with marijuana, it’s a citation — I pay a fine.  Most of the kids are starting to shift over to marijuana.  So we see now a lot of the kids are shifting to marijuana because they don’t want to go out with the booze.  I mean think about it.  If you’re a student and you’re underage, what are you going to do?  You’re almost pushing the kids toward marijuana.

So, as a matter of legislation, what do we do?  Make the penalties harder for underage possession of marijuana or lighter for alcohol?  If teenagers are already able to get marijuana through a black market, how much more easily will they get it once it’s legal?  Or does legalizing the drug have the perverse effect of increasing the government crackdown on residents, as if to say, “You can do this now, but you have to give up more of your freedom, independence, and privacy”?

And this is if legislators catch wind of this problem.  The number of ways legalizing a drug could have perverse effects in a society in which progressives have stripped cultural institutions of their authority and undermined a sense of self-reliance is potentially infinite.

  • Raymond Carter

    Nearly 40 years ago as a 7th grader in an all white junior high I could get marijuana more readily than an eraser. Prohibition doesn’t work and is the tool of the Left who want everybody to eat, drink, think and live EXACTLY as they dictate.

  • Mike678

    As I lean libertarian, I don’t have a strong opinion on the legalization of MJ–people can do what they want as long as I am not negatively impacted. Our nanny state, however, keeps trying to shield people from the consequences of their choices. Housing, food, medical care, cell phones and so forth are often provided to those who choose not to work or try–and I can’t say I have been impressed by the work habits or ethics of the cross-section of pot-heads I have known. Thus it will, inevitably cost society. Time to let people live with the consequences of their decisions–only then will I support legalization.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Let us look at alcohol. 100 years ago, it was basically a free for all. Then came prohibition, which gave us organized crime and taught us to flaunt the law. Then repeal, but the government couldn’t just give it up. So we have limited numbers of liquor licenses, according to population. Closing times,opening times. Minority drinking laws. etc, etc. We still have plenty of problems, although we have public acceptance. 20 years ago I visited New Orleans and took a tour of the French Quarter. The guide joked about “if you can reach the bar, you can get served”, there were drunks lying on the sidewalk. I doubt legalization will lead to a speedy and orderly transition. I don’t see that as a good reason to deny legalization. It does trouble me that a breathalyzer won’t work with it.