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John Robson: It’s wonderful that we’re legalizing marijuana. Let’s hope freedom is habit forming

The Liberals really seem about to legalize marijuana. Amazing.

I am not astonished that they are keeping a campaign promise. Parties generally mean what they say, however poorly they think through the practicalities. What astounds me is that we may see a significant measure to reduce government meddling in people’s lives.

The Liberals are moving with ostentatious caution, possibly to avoid playing into their stereotype as the pothead party. But since one survey says a quarter of Canadians have smoked marijuana just for fun in the past year you’d be surprised who indulges without succumbing to Reefer Madness.

Let me be clear that, for some unfortunates, many or all drugs including alcohol are addictive poison and must be avoided. But generally I’m with David Niven’s character in The Pink Panther: “I enjoy reality as much as the next man. It’s just that in my case, fortunately, reality includes a good stiff belt now and then.” I would smoke tobacco if it weren’t so harmful. I enjoy the taste, the physical act of smoking and the effects of nicotine. Emphysema and lung cancer, not so much.

It seems Canadians generally now consider reefer less harmful than processed sugar. I’m told they are often consumed in sequence. But regardless, the appropriate concern with both is quantity, even if governments run panicky ads saying stuff like “There is NO SAFE LEVEL of SECOND-HAND SMOKE… Even Outdoors!” What? Even one molecule?

That anti-tobacco ad is classic case of evidence-based decision-making discarded for the heady rush of puritan coercion. Which matters because we now risk abandoning the effort to prevent marijuana use through state compulsion for an effort to prevent it through other state compulsion. Things like plain packaging laws, high taxes and an unpleasant retail experience will, as with tobacco, sustain a huge black market. But they will also further the dangerous habit of thinking it is up to the government or nosy neighbours to live our lives for us, in a state where everything is forbidden that is not expressly permitted and sometimes even then.

Andrew Coyne, giving legalization a lukewarm endorsement in Tuesday’s National Post, said “My own position on these sorts of ‘vice’ issues is what one might call libertarian-Calvinist: you should be allowed to do them, but you shouldn’t want to.” Well frankly I’ll take the libertarian but you can keep the Calvinist.

Theologically Calvinists declared that it made no difference at all to God what you did, then set about sanctimoniously meddling in other people’s conduct. They were even willing to die horribly for the claim that salvation or damnation was predestined so dying horribly didn’t impress God one bit.

What are you, nuts?

If you want a Biblical perspective on drugs, read John 2:1-21 where Christ turns water into wine at Cana, even though his time has not yet come, so a wedding party can continue full blast. And 2:10 puts the kibosh on puritanical claims that it was grape juice. His first public miracle was to stand a round of the good stuff for everyone.

If you want a libertarian perspective, smoking a lot of cigarettes is bad for you. So probably is smoking a lot of marijuana. But it’s between you, your friends and family and your doctor. It is not the business of the cops or your uptight neighbour.

The issue is not youth. No conceivable legal or social arrangement will prevent everyone from tasting alcohol in their teens. I assure you. But the best way to keep drugs away from kids is to give merchants a strong social and legal stake in selling only to adults.

As Chesterton said, we should thank God for burgundy and beer by not drinking too much of them. Ditto smoking marijuana. Opiates are just for last-resort pain management. As for cocaine, methamphetamines, “bath salts” and all that garbage, thank God for life by never taking anything in powder form for fun.

God. Not the cops. When Coyne says “There is no contradiction … in legalizing it, while continuing to discourage its use” I respond that he may try to persuade me to shun demon rum. But government exists to protect us from force and fraud and I subject him to neither when I drink a beer or smoke a joint even if, by doing so, I diminish his potential pleasure or profit from my company.

It is absurd that we use state power to stop others from smoking tobacco yet leave them free to marry as they choose. And unjust. And harmful, stunting us morally by squeezing the space in which by making choices we become fully human.

The crucial thing about marijuana legalization is that people have the right to make their own choices even to relax and have fun. And who knows? Freedom could prove habit-forming.

National Post


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