A new survey from Gallup asked respondents how they felt about a whole host of what could be considered “vices” by many in this day and age, and whether or not they found each individual “vice” morally acceptable.
Some 65% of poll respondents said they found marijuana use morally acceptable, which is a higher rating than things like the death penalty, abortion and pornography got. In fact, the 65% for marijuana is similar to the numbers support for legalization often gets, suggesting that many link moral acceptability and whether or not something should be legal.
On the surface, this seems like good news, and as a practical matter, it is. But here is my problem with it:
The reason cannabis should be legal – the ONLY reason cannabis should be legal – is that people who use and possess and grow and sell it are not infringing on the rights of anyone else. Yes, I know, but “cutting out the black market and racial justice and tax revenue and save law enforcement resources and marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco.” I know all of that and write and opine on those aspects of legalization all the time. But they are just aspects of legalization, not reasons for it. They are positive side effects of legalization, of which there are many. But the core reason is that we are not criminals in the first place and never should have been treated that way.
I’m glad so many have found their way to seeing cannabis use as morally acceptable. Those numbers mean a lot at the ballot box and in state legislatures. But moral objections shouldn’t have the force of law. What you think about me smoking marijuana is irrelevant since I’m not infringing on the rights of anyone; or at least it should be.
When the moral opinions of some make law for everyone, dangerous territory is entered. I’m sure I over-use the “not infringing on the rights of anyone” line, but the importance of it as a line in the sand cannot be overestimated. Once that line is crossed, anything can be made illegal if enough of the right people find it morally objectionable.
That’s why moving the cultural needle on marijuana is probably the most important thing we can do to bring about legalization. We have crossed the line and now rely on the moral opinions of others to decide whether or not we are criminals.
It is a dangerous time, but at least when it comes to cannabis law reform, we are moving in the right direction.