Why John Stuart Mill Would Endorse the Legalization of Marijuana
While walking through the Diag on Saturday, or moreover, weaving my way through the drum circles and hula-hooping contests that had made their annual surfacing, I couldn’t help but overhear the words of a passionate orator advocating for the legalization of Marijuana. I will admit, the man’s enthusiasm piqued my interest, and seeing as it was a decent alternative to studying in the library, I stopped and listened. This man was a good speaker – he had a captivated crowd, and indeed it was growing by the minute. While, at first, I couldn’t understand how a dreadlocked man in a poncho could induce such a gathering, I understand now. He made sense.
Anyone who heard one sentence of this man’s speech would agree his passion transcended a mere love of pot. In fact, his words had little to do with Marijuana. The man argued that Marijuana laws are in strict discordance with the liberties, we as Americans, hold so sacred. He avowed that government does not have the right to tell him what he can and cannot do, so long as he is not hurting anyone else in his actions. This assertion brought to mind John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, a piece I was required to read for my political science course. Mill argues in his work that society cannot hold people accountable for choices they make, so long as those choices only affect them. He asserts that while it is encouraged to show disapproval of an action through persuasion or avoidance, he writes that silencing one’s personal choices is a dangerous thing for a government to do. He goes so far as to argue that police must respect an individual’s right to harm himself, and must only intervene if another’s liberties are in jeopardy. Since much of our nation’s mores are rooted in the precept of pursuing one’s own happiness, it follows that people should have the right to smoke Marijuana if they so choose. However, it is not the case.
Surely, if Marijuana is illegal, there is a reason. If it endorses the drug’s illegality, our government must feel that Marijuana is not only detrimental to the individual, but also to the well being of society as a whole. This makes sense – perhaps it is impossible to ensure that people’s getting high does not infringe on others’ rights. Indeed, it is unreasonable to assume some drug users would not attempt to pressure others into using – something that would be nearly impossible to enforce. Further, having police patrol for crimes like “high driving” would distract them from responding to other emergencies, thus detracting from the well being of society as a whole. Mill would argue, however, that there are much larger and lasting detriments to restricting rights than there are benefits. He asserts that too much governmental power stifles human development and ultimately hinders society’s progress. I would argue that in making Marijuana illegal, the government has already realized damaging consequences.
Like the prohibition of alcohol promoted organized crime and illegal trafficking, so too has the illegality of Marijuana had unintended penalties. Drug trade now bolsters organized crime, and gang warfare, fueled by the exorbitant profits associated with acquiring and selling illegal Marijuana, has taken countless casualties. I cannot help but agree with the great narrator in the poncho; if we want to sustain a healthy future for our nation and ensure the lasting security of our rights, we must reconsider the legality of Marijuana.