Yesterday, a committee of the Alabama House of Representatives voted to pass on H.B. 642 to the full house for a vote. The bill would allow medical marijuana usage in Alabama with a prescription:
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A bill to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes has been approved by an Alabama House committee.
The sponsor, Democratic Rep. Patricia Todd of Birmingham, acknowledges that with only five days remaining the bill has little chance of winning final passage this session.
The bill would allow a patient suffering serious pain because of cancer or other ailments to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The patient would need permission from a doctor and could grow his or her own marijuana.
One committee member, Democratic Rep. Yusuf Salaam of Selma, expressed concern that allowing marijuana use for medical purposes might open the door to full scale legalization of the drug.
The bill now goes to the full House.
While this may instill fear of quickening societal decline in the hearts of Christians, when you sit back and think about it logically, it really doesn’t make any sense for drugs to be illegal in the first place. And, there is no solid biblical or ethical reason to criminalize drug use. Now, I don’t expect you to just take my previous statement on face value. So, I’m going to step through my argument and try and convince you.
Here’s my argument:
- Christians should support the repeal of all laws that criminalize the use, possession or cultivation of drugs, because the enforcement of those laws, and resultant negative externalities, cause more harm than the drugs themselves.
Here’s my disclaimer:
- I, personally, do not use/take any illegal drugs whatsoever. And, if any currently illegal drug was to be made legal, I still would not put it into my body. In short, I do not and will not use drugs, now or in the future.
Now, my argument for repealing all drug laws is based on what I think is a set of obvious, common-sense observations about the consequences of criminalizing human behaviours that don’t harm others. I’m going to go through these observations one by one using marijuana laws as my example, but please note that I believe this applies to all drug laws. Not just marijuana.
1.) Marijuana’s legal status is not the determining factor upon which people decide to smoke it or not. Think about it for a moment. If you don’t currently use marijuana, is it because it’s illegal? Of course not. The reason you don’t smoke pot is because you’ve made either a moral, or a health decision to abstain from it. Marijuana’s legality doesn’t play into that decision making process at all. There are plenty of things that are legal to ingest that you, in fact, do not ingest. Tobacco for instance. Tobacco is fully legal, yet only about 21% of the U.S. population smoke cigarettes. Furthermore, that 21% number represents a drop in smokers from almost 43% in 1964 to 21% in 2005. That’s a 50% drop in 40 years, with smoking still being fully legal the entire time.
So, what is the reason for this drop in tobacco smoking rates? The overwhelming factors are social stigma and health concerns. Legality has nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact, most people begin smoking early in life, before they are of legal age, only to quit later as adults. This fact shows how ineffectual bans on personal behaviour are. If a majority of people begin using a drug when it’s illegal and then quit when it’s legal, that blows the whole theory out of the water from the get go. The bottom line is that legality doesn’t influence usage among behaviours that have moral stigma attached. If a person doesn’t smoke weed now, it’s about 99% certain that he won’t smoke it when it’s legal.
2.) Drug laws put people in prison for engaging in a behaviour that doesn’t harm anyone. People should not go to jail for ingesting something into their body. I believe it’s immoral to lock someone in a cage for eating, smoking or ingesting something into their body that we don’t approve of. But, let me be clear. This is an entirely different argument from things like drunk driving or negligence. What I’m talking about is the simple act of picking a plant out of your back yard, sticking it in a cigarette paper and inhaling the smoke. Knocking down a person’s door, kidnapping them from their family and throwing them in prison for months or years at a time simply for doing that act is immoral.
3.) Drug criminalization creates violence and suffering. You know what’s worse than smoking dope? Children being killed in the crossfire of Mexican drug wars and innocent people being murdered to keep them quiet about drug trafficking in inner-city neighborhoods. If prohibition taught us anything, it’s that making the personal consumption of certain substances illegal instantly creates a black market. And, that black market spawns gangs, violence, murder and all sorts of horrible side effects. What finally brought down Al Capone’s gang? It wasn’t the FBI. It was the repeal of prohibition. Want to destroy Mexican drug cartels? Repeal all of the drug laws. When things are made illegal, people fight over them. When those things are legalized people engage in commerce. It’s been said that when goods can’t cross borders, bullets will.
4.) Being an addict is not the same as being a criminal. Drugs are addictive. That’s a fact. Putting someone in prison doesn’t make them any less addicted to heroine. In fact, it complicates their recovery from that addiction. There’s plenty of drugs in prison. There’s also plenty of rape and violence. And, in the mean time, the addict is now isolated from their family, church and other loved ones. It’s sick. Showing the love of Christ to an addict is only complicated and frustrated by locking them up in a cage. And treating them like a criminal, so that they have to hide from public view, creates in them a sense of criminality that leads to worse behaviour and possibly real crime. What’s better? Having a prison ministry to go and preach to drug offenders, or not having them be prisoners at all and witnessing to them on their own front lawn.
5.) Enforcement of drug laws consume tens of billions of tax dollars each year. The DEA(Drug Enforcement Agency) has a budget of $2.6 billion dollars. When you take into account all of the thousands of enforcement agents, local police, state troopers, marshalls, court employees, etc. that are required to enforce the U.S. drug laws, it’s just insane the amount of money that is wasted on this nonsense. There are now roughly 50,000 people in prison in this country on marijuana charges, at a cost of $1 billion per year to the tax payer. When drugs as a whole are taken into account, the numbers are far higher. Again, I believe it’s wrong to be in favor of the caging of my fellow citizens for simply smoking a plant. If they get behind the wheel of a car or neglect their children in favor of drugs, let’s intervene as a society, but anything less is just bullying.
6.) Drug laws are completely inconsistent. This is an easy one. Marijuana is illegal. Alcohol isn’t. There is no difference between the two. Case closed.
7.) Sin is not the same as crime. There are lots of things that are sinful, that aren’t criminal. For instance, coveting your neighbors possessions is sinful. But it’s absolutely not criminal. The same applies to drugs and alcohol. Scripture tells us that our bodies are the “temple of the Lord.” Therefore, we should take care of our bodies and not damage them carelessly. But, using that as the basis of a civil law is silliness. Where does it stop? Sure, some people drink too much and some people smoke weed, and that impairs their judgement. But, many people also willingly push their bodies to the physical limit and get drowsy behind the wheel from overwork. Should we imprison them too? Also, many people willingly don’t eat right, so that their bodies get sick and they can’t take care of their families like they should. Should we imprison them too? Of course not. Smoking marijuana may be sinful, but it isn’t criminal any more than becoming addicted to Ambien is criminal. Both impair your judgement, but you only go to jail for one.
8.) Drug laws increase State power at the expense of social power. Christians should be the first in line to come to the aid of those in the grip of drug addiction. But, we have acquiesced to the impersonal, faceless, cold State. They might get somewhat better after the State puts them through mandatory drug rehab programs, but where is the love of Christ? Drugs have always carried social stigma. And, even before there were marijuana laws(The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937) those addicted to drugs were social outcasts. Christ told us to minister to those people, not throw them in a cage. That effort is hindered, not helped, by zealous District Attorneys that just need another notch on their belt in an election year.
9.) Drug laws just simply don’t work. I heard it said recently that the drug wars are over and the drugs won. That’s a very true statement. It’s estimated that roughly 100 million Americans have smoked pot at some point in their lives or actively smoke it now. Statistically, this is an absolutely dismal failure. While this isn’t an argument in and of itself, it lends us an insight into the feasability of outlawing non-harmful behaviour. In short, banning a behaviour doesn’t stop that behaviour. It just empowers the State. The only thing that keeps people from doing drugs is shame and lack of funds. Not laws.
Legalization of marijuana is inevitable. It’s going to happen folks. It’s just a matter of time. California could legalize marijuana as early as this year. And, if that happens and they successfully tax the crap out of it, you will see a rapid domino effect across all of the other states as they join in the action to save their dwindling budgets. What you won’t see is millions of non-pot smokers going to the pot store to buy some weed for the first time when it’s finally legalized. That’s just not the way things work. As a Christian, I want people to refrain from behaviour that could harm themselves. But, so much more harm comes from drug law enforcement than from the actual drugs themselves that I believe it’s the appropriate Christians stance to support repeal of drug laws. At the very least, it would put us back to the pre-1937 stance of curbing drug use simply through societal shame and addiction treatment, not laws.