In fact, the imperatives of enforcing prohibition have led to the loss of rights and liberties for all of us. Pot smokers and teetotalers alike now may undergo the invasive and humiliating ritual of providing a urine sample under supervision in order to get a job, play high school athletics, or gain access to public benefits. Neighborhoods may be riddled with informers, eager to make a bust to get out of their own troubles. And under the infamous “drug war exception” to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, our right to be secure against SWAT raids of our homes is much reduced.
To put it somewhat callously, we need to separate the police from marijuana users, except to clean up their messes, as we do with alcohol. Police arrest alcohol abusers who get in bar brawls, beat up their wives, or drive drunk, but they leave well-behaved boozers alone. So it should be with marijuana—with the bonus that there will be far fewer messes to clean up.
At its heart, the legalization of marijuana is matter of morality. Given that any impartial cost-benefit analysis favors access to marijuana, there is no justification for using the coercive power of the state to impel abstinence. It is inconsistent with our Western values of individual freedom and liberty, and it is hypocritical when compared to the vast commercialization of alcohol and tobacco, especially for use by minors. Legalizing marijuana is not only the efficient and expedient measure—it’s the right thing to do.
The voters in Colorado or Oregon or Washington will, I hope, start us down that path. In turn, the federal government should get out of the way and let, in the words of Justice Louis Brandeis, “a single courageous State…serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”