Full disclosure: I’ve never smoked marijuana and if it were legalized I still wouldn’t smoke it. As a Christian I also agree with the traditional interpretation that the biblical prohibition against drunkenness from alcohol (c.f. Proverbs 20:1 and Ephesians 5:18) should logically be taken as a general principle and be extended to marijuana and any other intoxicating drug or substance. In other words, I am in agreement with those who say that, biblically speaking, getting high is as much a sin as getting drunk. Despite all this, I believe the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. represents the best and most just solution to what the The Global Commission on Drug Policy calls a “failed” global war on drugs. Truthfully, I believe this would be choosing the lesser of two evils, but the evil of maintaining the status quo seems too great not to.
In high school I had a friend who smoked marijuana recreationally and once told me that he felt no remorse for doing so because it was a victimless crime, hurting no one. I always remembered that because it’s a sentiment that most marijuana users I’ve known feel. In the back of my mind I always thought, “Yeah, but what about the effects on your mental and physical health?! You can’t say it’s completely harmless if you are the one being hurt!” However there are people who would refute that. This became more clear to me than ever during the run-up to the voting on Proposition 19 here in California. While I’m no scientist, I listened carefully to radio debates and read a couple good newspaper articles about the latest medical findings concerning the effects of marijuana use. Surprisingly, occasional and recreational use of marijuana did not appear as destructive as I had thought, with experts citing a lack of evidence of it being a carcinogen or doing anywhere near the damage tobacco does. From what I learned, there is still substantial evidence of chronic use interfering with and harming mental health, causing psychological and physical addiction, and causing respiratory problems. But, the risks just seem to pale in comparison to those of other popular substances. So was my friend right? Is marijuana, overall, just as harmful as regulated substances like tobacco and alcohol? These facts alone probably don’t make for the best argument for complete legalization but I certainly think they justify less harsh criminalization.
The not-so-exotic cash cow
As I’ve thought about my friend’s rationale, and heard it repeated by other marijuana users since, I think I understand more clearly the logic. The assumption behind its harmless nature was that the weed they were puffing came from a tranquil little farm in the forests of Northern California maintained by Earth-loving hippies. I’ve known and been around lots of marijuana smokers in my day and, from personal experience, this seems to be the dominant view here on the West Coast. Is it true though? Does all that dank, chronic really come from the mythical lands of British Columbia, Hawaii, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Eugene?
According to a Los Angeles Times article, in which they cite findings by the RAND Corporation, 40 to 67% comes from Mexico. That’s a lot of Mexican pot. In another interesting article, the RAND Corporation says this “accounts for 15 to 26 percent of the export revenues generated by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.” And, as reported in the July 11, 2011 edition of TIME, “According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Americans consume $65 billion worth of illegal drugs annually, roughly what they spend on higher education, and most of those drugs are either produced in Mexico or transit through it.” That’s a lot of money. Marijuana being the most popularly used illegal drug in the U.S., that is indeed a lot of money and a lot of pot. And this brings up the issue of the Mexican drug cartels.
According to the same TIME article, “Drug-related murders in Mexico have jumped an alarming 760% since 2005.” That’s 1,776 in 2005 up to 15,271 in 2010. In the border town of Juarez alone, 3,200 of its residents were killed in 2010 earning the city the highest murder rate in the world. Almost 70 Mexican journalists have been murdered by drug gangs since 2007. Drug-related kidnapping in Mexico has jumped up 317% since 2005. I have heard bits of similar news over the past couple years but the TIME article was disturbing and saddening to me to a new depth. I look at this and wonder how an American pothead can feel good about themself while lighting up that joint. This violence and devastation is not a well-kept secret and unless you’re growing your own marijuana you are most likely aiding it. Put bluntly, you’re supporting terrorism. To my friend who thinks his puffing is harmless, I would say, “…it’s only as harmless as the source of your bud!” Odds are, your bud is dripping with blood.
As a Christian with no intention to smoke marijuana, I agree with experts like the Global Commission on Drug Policy that marijuana should be legalized, controlled, regulated, taxed, and grown in the U.S. Not for the silly reason of just increasing tax revenues (though that would be one small benefit), but in light of the facts that, 1) Marijuana is already widely used in the U.S. and shows no signs losing its appeal; 2) Sporadic use is not risk free, but doesn’t seem to be any worse than the risks associated with alcohol and tobacco; and 3) Marijuana is partly responsible for the money and power given to the homicidal cartels in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. I’m obviously not a policy expert but I can bet that legalization would create new, unforeseen problems. From a Christian standpoint, I also must acknowledge that allowing any sin to flourish in a society will ultimately prove to be harmful to the society. This is why I believe legalization would be the lesser of two evils.
The evil and violence in Mexico and Latin America is encroaching on America so doing something to help stop it there and prevent it from coming here is valid in my opinion. And it is even more valid when we’re talking about a substance that we already have such a hypocritical opinion of as a nation–medical marijuana, inconsistent punishments from state to state, etc. This is not Ron Paul’s libertarian argument to legalize every drug; I’m not so sure the pros of legalizing something as dangerous as cocaine and heroin outweigh the cons. To me this is a matter of justice. Justice for the orphans, widows, and other innocent victims of violence from Colombia to Mexico to the U.S., all stemming from a substance we already half-heartedly embrace. I admit that this is complicated and I have oversimplified some things, but I still feel the best thing we can do is legalize it, and not just in California because that wouldn’t be enough: Legalize it nationwide. America’s—and Mexico’s—“drug war” is exacerbating the violence. This wouldn’t eliminate all the violence, but at least it would reduce some of it. And that would surely be a positive step forward.