Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 767, April 20, 2014

Anarchists are persons who believe with
all their hearts that governments are
enemies of their own people.

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The differences between libertarian and liberal drug legalization
by Terence James Mason

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

'I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.'
—Thomas Jefferson

In recent online discussions and on news sites and blogs, much has been said about the negative consequences of Colorado's recent legislation legalizing marijuana. The raft of articles concerning increased inspection of vehicles with Colorado plates traveling out of state, and increased "driving under the influence" citations in Colorado, Most recently, I received the following from a correspondent:

Other reports (e.g. [here]) note that the woman told dispatchers that her husband had consumed "edible marijuana" and pain medication before he began acting strangely.

The item came to me with two tiers of comments:

a) A note that the woman was NOT helpless and could have defended herself in the brink if she had so chosen, instead of relying on police to respond.
b) A comment on marijuana legalization itself, "Legalizing marijuana is a social experiment that is doomed to fail. I know, it's "no different than booze" in some people's eyes...but perhaps they didn't deal with it as much as I while in the military."

I don't know my correspondent's specific experiences, but I do know that my own father (now deceased), also career military, came home one weekend in the late 1970's after having to deliver a death notice to the family of a recruit who obtained "battery acid laced heroin" and promised my cousin and me that he would kill us himself if he ever heard of us using drugs. (Full disclosure, I spent a bit of time in pot-smoke-filled rooms in college, but only tried it a couple of times before deciding that it didn't do anything for me either directly or in contact form. I guess I'm naturally gonzo enough for the effect to be muted. Obviously, Dad didn't follow through on his promise when I came clean with him a decade or so later.)

In any event, I forwarded the piece without comment; my correspondent replied, "I fully expected a Libertarian 'lecture’ from you!" to which I offered the following response:

"It was already included: she SHOULD have been able to defend herself :-)"

While I think a strong argument can be that the prohibition and police-state ancillaries of drug enforcement are more damaging to society than the use of narcotics, I am NOT a "they're all benign, let the fun and games begin" believer in drug legalization. Attendant to legalization is, "Get high, get fired? Not my problem. Need dope, try to rob somebody? I'm not responsible for your hospital bills while the doctor removes the buckshot." Call me a Social Darwinist, but that philosophy also used to be called "tough love." And still consistently libertarian.

Besides which, what we're seeing now in Colorado is not libertarian drug legalization, but liberal drug legalization—the assumption is that Nanny Colorado will pick up the pieces from narcotics irresponsibility. In other words, they're legalizing drugs so as to increase the number of de facto wards of the state. The other item in this arena came out earlier this week: Casual marijuana use linked with brain abnormalities, [Link]

My comment when forwarding that piece was: I can only report, anecdotally from my own observations, that people I've known who were frequent marijuana users suffered functional impairments that were different than, but comparable to, those afflicting alcoholics. Certainly, at a minimum, "live for the toke" is as impairing as "live for the drink," and the premature aging and death effects seem similar (though admittedly most of the people I've known who were heavy pot users also drank heavily). But in general (there are of course specific exceptions), frequent marijuana users have seemed to me to be less functional when not high than alcoholics when not drunk—the "mellow" continues when the high is gone. Anecdotally some heavy users reported physiological changes from use. Incidentally, all of the heavy regular pot users and drinkers I knew from my misspent youth with which I maintained any kind of contact are now practicing their vices on the Other Side.

This is not the same as arguing that pot should be illegal—the libertarian in me is comfortable with letting people make their mistakes as long as I don't have to pay to clean them up, and tends to believe that the evils attendant unto drug distribution are worse than those attendant to drug use—Colorado should answer that question for us soon. Speaking of which, it's becoming apparent that Colorado is as willing to make money from ticketing people for marijuana intoxication as they are from taxing the sale of the pot— just like alcohol.

PS—it is arguably true that the Prohibition-funded gang activity gave us the National Firearms Act that regulated private ownership of fully automatic weapons. Drug prohibition gives us the cartels. Our choices are: legalize drugs and deal with those consequences; keep them illegal and deal with those consequences; or keep them illegal and expand the surveillance state and police militarization even further to assure police parity with the cartels. You can't choose a choice of action AND choose your consequences. There are only two ways to eliminate the cartels: legalize drugs and put them out of business, or use the police and national guard to take them—and their inevitable successors ad infinitum—out (pseudo?-)militarily. Prohibition is not a solution, it is just a different problem set beset by crime and corruption on top of everything else.

Since this is compiled out of various emails, it's a little rambling, so let me summarize.

  • Marijuana is not benign. It is arguable that it's no worse than booze, but it's certainly different than booze. There are individual consequences of its abuse.
  • Marijuana prohibition creates a different problem set with different consequences.
  • The liberal solution to prohibition is legalization while using the apparatus of the Nanny state to "protect" negligent users from the consequences of their actions at the expense of the productive. Marijuana legalization while keeping other narcotics illegal is the "best of all possible worlds" for progressives—they both get to milk the pot users for votes while maintaining the police state because of the continued cartel action over cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics.
  • Libertarian legalization recognizes that the user is ultimately responsible to himself for the physical and financial consequences of marijuana (and other narcotics) abuse. There is no fall-back to "society" or "government" to fix the consequences of abuse.
  • Last but not least, Libertarian politicians who sound like liberals on drug legalization are part of the problem within the Libertarian party, and is one reason why Republicans and moderates ignore the LP. Yes, it's a matter of choice—but ignoring the consequences does neither the user, the abuser, nor the potential fellow traveler, any good.

T.J. Mason tweets at Twitter: @OneAmericanVoic

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