Tuesday, June 15, 2004
That Sinful Weed
Here is an editorial from one of our northern neighbors, written for the Toronto Star yesterday, on what a horrible idea it would be for the government to legalize marijuana production.
The editorial is responding to a report by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank advocating competitive market solutions to public policy problems. You can read the report here. Its author focuses on the fact that marijuana production benefits organized crime, and that the government would be better off legalizing production and taxing it.
What I found interesting in the editorial was the author's view that "this study affirms the notion that government ought to use its power to punish sinful behaviour. If that's the case, we prefer...maintaining the social stigma that attends [marijuana]." Is that what government is for? Many people think that it is distasteful for government to attempt to regulate the morality of a society, yet that is what it often does intentionally or not. I don't believe that government should regulate morality, but I do believe that the government sends important social signals through its criminal laws. For example, our government once told us that it was illegal and therefore immoral for people of different races to marry. Drug dealers face harsher criminal penalties than murderers under federal sentencing guidelines, thus signaling that selling certain substances is more immoral than killing someone. Heavy drinkers and chain smokers may be frowned upon by society, but they are not thrown in jail, separated from their families, and burdened by a criminal record for the rest of their lives. Their behavior, in the government's eyes, is more moral than someone who smokes an occasional joint, or puts some cocaine up their nose once a year.
As long as our government refuses to accept an enlightened view of substance use, individuals who choose to ingest something that the Powers That Be have deemed "sinful" will continue to be marginalized, and people like the author of the Toronto Star editorial will have legitimacy in their view that these individuals are immoral and evil. One may not agree with a person's decision to use one substance or another, but labeling that person as sinful for making a personal choice is not a very wise basis for government policies.