Non Marijuana Smokers For Legalization of Marijuana

Daniel Larison (via Andrew Sullivan) thinks that many proponents of marijuana are being counterproductive:

…it seems to me that legalization arguments will never gain much traction if advocates for it are constantly having to mention how they are not like the drug’s stereotypical users or regard the drug’s use as some grievous personal failing. Instead of coming across as a stronger argument, the standard “I’m in favor of legalization, and I’m the farthest thing in the world from a pot smoker!” argument ends up making the argument for legalization less compelling. This is because this kind of argument unintentionally reproduces the stigma against the drug and effectively endorses one of the key claims that supporters of criminalization make. While it is true that there are a great many practical and principled reasons why Americans of all stripes should oppose continued criminalization, for legalization to take hold as something more than a marginal issue that has the sympathies of more than relatively marginal political forces there would need to be a much larger constituency that regards criminalization as an intolerable imposition on one of their preferences.

A problem with this argument is that there really are plenty of us who do not smoke marijuana but who support legalization. This is largely for libertarian reasons of allowing others to make their own choices, even if different from the choices I have made. Nobody argues that all of us who support legalization of gay marriage must be gay. Similarly there is no reason that supporters of legalization of marijuana must be marijuana users.

There are also pragmatic reasons for opposing the drug war such as the increased violence it leads to and increased law enforcement costs. These are also reasons which those of us who don’t use marijuana could see as appealing reasons to support legalization.

I do concede that Larison does have a point. I’ve never felt compelled to preface a post supporting legalization of marijuana with the fact that I do not smoke marijuana (only mentioning it here as it is relevant to the discussion). Showing a need to stress this could be taken as stigmatization.

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  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I am in favor of an end to the drug war, including broad legalization or decriminalization of most controlled substances. The vast majority of controlled substances I want to see legalized are things I would never dream of taking.

    The failure of prohibition in this area, which has been mentioned many times by many people on the left and the right, is too systemic to properly describe. While its effects in the US have not led to the completely acceptable culture of crime that big ‘P’ Prohibition created in the 1920s, this is only because of massive police operations costing far more than their relative value to society. Nor have they succeeded in completely wiping organized crime out, or eliminating corruption.

    More important might be the effect of the War on Some Drugs But Not Others on foreign nations. Mexico and Colombia are practically held hostage by growers of cocaine, opium, and marijuana. Opium is the biggest cash crop along a stretch of western and central Asia. Countries are in real wars with militarized drug dealers because of our ‘war’ against drug users.

    Purely as a civil libertarian, the government has widened police powers to unprecedented levels in order to attempt to catch drug dealers and their success has been partial at best. It is not worth the cost in civil rights anymore. The majority of our ‘criminals’ in prison are now non-violent drug offenders. Not gang members or mobsters or dealers, but non-violent users.

  2. 2
    MarijuanaLobby says:

    See how much our US Cities, States, Country and households could save on taxes if Marijuana were decriminalized: Change we can engage in…

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Barry Goldwater once believed that by complete legalization, combined with the kind of duties levied on liquor and tobacco, it would be possible to slash income taxes by as much as half. I think that is overly optimistic, but it is certainly a new avenue of revenue for the government that would short circuit normal ‘you’re raising my taxes you bastard!’ complaints. The odds are, with legalization, the prices would be lower for consumers even with the duties.

  4. 4
    Jeremy Pober says:

    I see what you’re saying here but it seems to me this cause is strengthened when you can make two claims: 1) people who smoke marijuana regularly lead productive lives and are good members of society and 2) people who do not smoke marijuana (and therefore don’t have their productivity or upstandingness in question) believe in the people mentioned in 1). The fact is that the stigma already exists, and while pointing out that you do not smoke might mildly lead toward its perpetuation, it will simultaneously do a lot more to fight it.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Having non-marijuana smokers support legalization also help contradict the view of some that it is only people who regularly get high on marijuana who care about the issue. You could really argue this issue both ways. Ultimately the argument for legalization should be made own its own merits, not based upon whether one uses marijuana.

    In addition, many of the arguments against the drug war are independent of one’s view of marijuana users. There are arguments for getting this out of the criminal justice system even if one believes that marijuana use is not a good thing.

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The debate over marijuana is really at least two debates.

    Firstly, the debate over whether or not marijuana is a ‘dangerous drug’ that should be banned outright instead of somehow regulated. The debate over whether or not marijuana users are stereotypical potheads does bear some relevance to this debate, as part of the strategy for demonzing marijuana is demonizing pot-smokers.

    Secondly, the debate over the success or failure of the drug war, both overall and in specific relation to pot.

    It should be noted, not everyone interested in the first debate has an equal interest in the second. Many people support legalization of marijuana while supporting the larger drug war.

  7. 7
    Jeremy Pober says:

    Ron and Eclectic Radical,
    I think you’re both on to a distinction that gets overlooked in drug policy advocacy a great deal. However, I’m not sure if the distinction is as simple as dividing issues surrounding marijuana itself versus the rest of the drug war. It’s certainly not as simple as dividing people up who think drugs are not great but should be legal or who do think they’re good because no one buys this latter argument (do even drug users really think that drugs are “good”?)

    I’ve been working on a way to distinguish these two separate issues for a while. The best conclusion that I’ve come to is a philosophical divide: some people think the overall philosophy that our country has regarding drugs is legitimate, but think that marijuana is mistreated under this view. These people end up protesting prison sentencing for marijuana and at times other drugs when the sentence doesn’t fit the crime, but they still at least imply that doing drugs is and ought to be a crime.

    Others think that there really needs to be a fundamental attitude adjustment towards paternalism and psychoactive substances in this country, such that just because something gets someone high doesn’t mean the government has a right or duty to make it illegal.

    On both sides of this divide, you’ll find people who think the drug war is a bad idea. The difference is whether they think so on purely practical grounds or whether they are really just fundamentally against the idea of locking up a nonviolent offender for getting high, period.

  8. 8
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Benjamin Franklin once said ‘Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.’ I know people who feel precisely that way about marijuana. That makes two drugs, at least, that many people believe to be ‘good.’ I am certain there are people who feel the same way about other drugs. To say that no one buys such an argument is simply not true, however convenient it may be for many pragmatic or libertarian opponents of the drug war to believe it.

    I’ll say it again: there are most certainly people who believe drugs to be ‘good.’

    Many of those opposed to the drug war do not fit into this category, and many people believe their drug of choice to be ‘good’ but support the larger drug war outside of that context. In that sense, yes, it is very complicated indeed.

    I am opposed to the War on Some Drugs on pragmatic grounds (it has failed miserably),  on libertarian grounds (it is wrong to criminalize individual behavior that does not infringe upon the rights of other individuals), and on moral grounds (I believe, regardless of loose or strict interpretation of the Constitution, the right to privacy is a moral right that the government is bound to respect whether it is communicated explicitly or not) rather than because of my belief in the ‘goodness’ of drugs, it is true.

    That said, I believe drugs may be good, at least some drugs under some circumstances.  Solid scientific evidence suggests that moderate, controlled use of alcohol can have health benefits and that similar use of marijuana and psychedelics can be beneficial to mental health. Certainly the least ‘good’ drug of all, nicotine, is entirely legal.

  9. 9
    Jeremy Pober says:

    You’re mostly right, and I personally agree with all of your stated principles. I have friends who regularly smoke marijuana with beneficial effects (of course, they don’t do their work <em>when they’re high</em> but having smoked it regularly, so they claim, gives a calming or centering effect to the rest of their life. Sure, I buy that in some contexts. Hell, I myself once said in college that there is no inherent value to sobriety (I was an, uh, interesting kid in college).

    But it’s stupid not to believe that all of these substances do have negative physical effects in the long-term. Even Bill Maher famously quipped (wish I could find the episode) that even he admits pot’s not good for him, it’s just a hell of a lot less bad than anything else.

    That being said, my point was that the more salient difference we should look at as sane drug policy advocates is the philosophical one, as to whether we think the government has a right to prohibit substances at all. My point is that drug policy advocates who don’t take that philosophical stance are only going to get us so far, and that stance is completely independent of whether one believes pot, alcohol, or any other drug to be “good” or “bad.”

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    “The difference is whether they think so on purely practical grounds or whether they are really just fundamentally against the idea of locking up a nonviolent offender for getting high, period.”

    My bet is that most people who support legalization do so on philosophical grounds and these are primarily the ones who go on to the next step of looking at how drug laws are working (and their cost) and also bring up these arguments. There may be some who have come to this position based purely on practical grounds but I believe they are in the minority.

    Arguments based upon practical grounds also sometimes get more attention, even if they are not the primary motivation, as there is something concrete to talk about. You can make the argument based upon libertarian principles but if people do not agree you are at and end of the discussion. I certainly do not want to get bogged down into arguments as to whether marijuana or other drug use is good.

     The arguments based upon practicality lead to more blog posts as either new evidence comes in or when those with expertise in the area make public statements worth reporting on.

  11. 11
    Jeremy Pober says:

    You’re quite likely right that the practical supporters are the minority of the total of drug policy reform advocates; my worry is that they are the majority of such advocates in positions of power (viz. Webb).

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:

    I won’t try to guess what any individual is thinking, but I still suspect that most of the people who push for legalization on pragmatic grounds also have an underlying philosophical support. Many in power might find it easier to argue based upon pragmatic reasons to reduce objections from those who disagree philosophically.

  13. 13
    Eclectic Radical says:

    People generally make arguments from pragmatism even when their positions are ideological or philosophical. For example: look at the range of ‘pragmatic’ reasons to oppose economic stimulus by conservatives when their real opposition is the religious belief that taxes are bad. Just because people make arguments from their sense of perceived pragmatism, it does not mean their motives are purely pragmatic.

  14. 14
    Jeremy Pober says:

    You both have a good point, but I’d respond by saying that politicians and public figures have the ability to influence public opinion. As such, the more they use these pragmatic justifications that don’t entail any underlying change in our fundamental philosophy toward intoxicating substances in place of a philosophical justification, the more people are really going to believe that the best end is, say, decriminalization as opposed to a real end to the drug war and the concepts behind it.

  15. 15
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Yes, well, I do not believe the majority of people (not merely the politicians, but pretty much everyone) have really considered the philosophical flaws in the drug war. It wasn’t so many years ago, ten or fifteen maybe, that polls said people favored the death penalty for dealers. Ever since the first narcotics laws, coincident with the original Prohibition, there has been a sense that drugs were somehow something truly awful. Many people believe the propaganda of ‘Reefer Madness’ to this day, and there is a lot of similar propaganda about other drugs.

  16. 16
    Ron Chusid says:


    Yes, I would love to see politicians come out for ending the drug war based upon libertarian principles. Unfortunately I don’t see many of them doing so, even though this would be beneficial in achieving such change.

  17. 17
    Jeremy Pober says:

    At the end of the day, we agree here. Fun argument though–been a while since we had one. 🙂

  18. 18
    Ron Chusid says:

    I never really saw this as an argument.

  19. 20
    Ron Chusid says:

    I’m not sure why you would respond that way. That was a comment based upon the fact that we were discussing something where we were pretty much in  agreement all along as opposed to having an argument.

  20. 21
    Jeremy Pober says:

    It was just a joke. As I said in my post that tracked back here (#16) these discussions between agreeing minds are fun, but often (though not always) just that. The key issue, I think, is identifying where the current wave of putative drug reform advocates like Webb lie on these issues so we can see what to expect from them.

  21. 22
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Recent writing, on HuffPo about reaction to President Obama’s reaction to the marijuana question the other week, had me thinking on this discussion again. For anyone interested:

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