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Culture

It’s Not About Marijuana, It’s About Liberty

Russ Belville

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Legalizing marijuana will raise millions of dollars in tax revenue and redirect precious limited law enforcement resources to combating real crime. But that’s not why we should legalize marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana addresses a shameful disparity in law enforcement that disproportionately harasses, arrests, and incarcerates people of color. But that’s not why we should legalize marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana will bring an underground industry out of the shadows and provide numerous jobs and economic revitalization in many sectors. But that’s not why we should legalize marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana will finally reconcile the mistaken Schedule I designation for cannabis and allow patients to use a medicine safer than pharmaceuticals as well as allow adults to enjoy a substance safer than alcohol. But that’s not why we should legalize marijuana.

We should legalize marijuana because this is America and we believe in Liberty.

It doesn’t matter if legalization brings in tax revenue, though it’s a nice bonus. But suppose marijuana were more like alcohol and tobacco, which only bring in one-tenth in tax revenue what they exact in social costs. It seems even when it is a money-loser, an adult’s liberty to enjoy a beer or a cigarette is championed. We deserve that liberty with marijuana whether it makes money or not.

It doesn’t matter if legalization impacts our racist legal system, though it’s a nice bonus. But suppose police began “Operation Cracker Barrel” and made a point of arresting many more white people for pot, so the arrests would match the racial demographics of pot smokers. It’s shameful that prohibition affects so many more blacks and Latinos than whites, but it’s wrong no matter who its victims are.

It doesn’t matter if legalization creates a vital new industry, though it’s a nice bonus. But suppose all your state can manage to pass is a “grow and give” system similar to Washington DC, with no commercialization. Or maybe a Uruguayan-style government system where the state manages all marijuana commerce. Or maybe a Spanish-style collective system where commerce is relegated within the small collective. The liberty to use marijuana isn’t dependent on the liberty to make money on it.

It doesn’t matter if marijuana is safer than prescription drugs and alcohol, though it’s a nice bonus. But clearly we’ve recognized as a society that we can accept the greater risks and social costs of these drugs. We should be allowed to use marijuana even if it was as harmful as the other legal drugs.

No, what really matters is that in America, you should be free to think and do what you like so long as you’re not harming others, and that some freedom of thought and action is acceptable even if it does harm others. Driving a car puts others in immediate risk of accident and eminent risk of pollution and climate change. Eating meat is detrimental to one’s health and vastly over-utilizes our natural resources. Having sex with strangers puts every person they have sex with at risk. Despite the fact that a society of bicycling vegan virgins would be much safer than ours, our society makes the risk trade-off necessary to get a cheeseburger at the drive-thru with your one-night stand.

It’s not really about the marijuana; it’s about the ability of the state to curtail your liberty over it.

It’s that smelling like marijuana or looking like a “pothead” or “thug” gets you police harassment.

It’s that your choice to display a Grateful Dead or 420 sticker on your car gets you arrested.

It’s that your choice to post a bud photo on your Facebook gets you suspended.

It’s that your kid correcting marijuana misinformation in a D.A.R.E. class can get your kid taken and your house searched.

It’s that employers and landlords can discriminate against your kind with impunity.

It’s that you are forced to live your life closeted, hiding who you are and what you like, while drinkers are celebrated and smokers are tolerated.

"Radical" Russ Belville hosts 'The Marijuana Agenda' on YouTube, a live weekday news/talk program all about cannabis. Learn more at MJAgenda.com.

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