By Ryan Lau | United States
As the beloved 4/20 approaches, legal marijuana advocates will take to the streets and smoke across the country. Many locations, including Burlington, Vermont, even have established “smoke-outs” for protesters to participate in. Yet, their actions, however well-intentioned, only hurt the liberty movement, for a number of key reasons. First of all, the use of marijuana in this recreational setting serves as an inhibitor to change. Also, the specific goals of these movements only harm the future of liberty by restricting further progress.
As it currently stands, government forces us Americans to play into a system of representative government. Those representatives, whether they have a right to do so or not, make decisions about the lives of other people, decisions which come down in the form of laws. I am in no way disputing the notion that the law is unjust, but rather conceding its unfortunate existence. Due to the majority’s belief in it, the law stands. The state is thus able to use this belief to tighten its grip over the citizens. So, what can we do to get our freedoms back efficiently? Certainly not a smoke-out.
Ultimately, libertarianism centers around the principle of self-ownership. In order for a society to function on the principle of self-ownership, individuals must also exhibit personal responsibility. As a free and equal individual, each of us is able to do as we please, provided that we do not restrict any other equal individuals from doing the same. Yet, usage of recreational marijuana does exactly this, not to others, but to ourselves.
Some short term side effects of consuming marijuana include dizziness, shallow breathing, and slowed reaction time. Thinking about this, one realizes that a dizzy and slow activist is probably less likely to bring about real change. Perhaps, rather than getting caught in the crippling hazes of majority and smoke, these activists should save the blaze for others, or at least for their own homes, instead focusing on professionalism in order to make real change.
Allegedly, these activists have a goal of marijuana legalization. Yet, it is the government officials that they need to convince with these movements. By placing a bloc of disoriented fools under public scrutiny, they only push moderate politicians further away from their cause by embodying some of the negative side effects. Of course, the disoriented fools are not representative of the majority of marijuana users. However, when media gives them the most attention, they become the stereotype of the marijuana user. A mob of stoners will garner considerably more views, and become a much more entertaining stereotype, than a businessman eating a brownie after a long week’s work will. Yet, the politician will more likely see the story of the businessman as legitimate. Hence, exemplifying current stereotypes through foolish movements will only continue to hurt the movement.
Despite the clear pitfalls of the marijuana protesters’ images, this is only the beginning. Much more important to discuss is the fact that these people are simply not advocating for liberty. Essentially, they are only calling for more government regulation, and normalizing asking government officials for permission to act. In fact, the biggest qualm for this movement comes in its very name. By using the word “legalize”, marijuana advocates cede all permission to run their own lives.
The word “legalize” has a very dark, underlying connotation that most will not pick up on. Essentially, it implies that the entity doing the legalizing has full control over the people’s lives. By setting legalization as the far boundary for discussion in the direction of liberty, government only gains power.
Furthermore, the term legalization implies a certain degree of state control regarding it. More specifically, it allows for various forms of taxation and regulation on the plant. Though it becomes a legal substance, it is still very much a controlled substance. Thus, this change is not a step towards freedom, it is merely a slight change in the circumstances in which government will take away individual freedoms.
In fact, this change actually makes the situation worse for true liberty advocates by pacifying moderate supporters. This worsened situation comes as soon as legalization advocates begin praising regulations and taxes as valid reasons for the legalization of the substance. By doing so, government has now successfully framed the debate in a way that entirely excludes liberty as an option. Just as the Republican and Democratic parties are framed to represent two opposing sides within a relatively narrow ideological chamber, the same is now done to the marijuana debate. When we use the word legalize, we allow government to control both sides of the debate. We allow authoritarianism to seep into the libertarian viewpoint. When this happens, true freedom is lost.
Without a doubt, asking the government permission to use a substance under certain circumstances is not freedom. If an individual is not directly preventing anyone from acting freely, they may rightfully act freely without permission. Unfortunately, most legalization movements have lost sight of the ideals of liberty that they claim to stand for. As increasing numbers of reports praise marijuana tax revenues and regulations, freedom advocates lose, and governments win. By bringing the substance into the legal scope, they control it far more than they ever did through criminalizing it.
Hence, if legalization is not the answer, then true deregulation is. We must, as a society, resist the bait of legalization, as it only sets back the movement. We must avoid using the substance in scenarios where we need to be at the pinnacle of mental focus and quick reaction. Most importantly, we must not lose sight of liberty, rather than any one particular policy victory, as our end goal. True liberty does not come through taxation or regulation. One cannot become free by asking permission.