In November the citizens of Washington DC are voting to decriminalize the smoking of marijuana. If passed, it is a step short of legalizing the retail sale of marijuana. While I don’t know which jurisdictions would be doing so, other jurisdictions may be doing the same this November or in the coming years. A handful of jurisdictions in the United States already permit the sale of marijuana.
The arguments for and against abound, some of which are fallacious while others are much stronger. One prime argument against legalization of marijuana is that it is a gateway drug, a mild drug that leads to the taking of harder drugs. The reasoning is that if smoking of marijuana is legalized that the consumption of harder drugs will increase. The anti-legalization advocates note the number of people who are taking hard drugs who had smoked marijuana first. I’ve not been impressed with such an argument. While those using this argument are trying to make a direct cause and effect argument the argument is built upon a correlation of two behaviors that may or may not be linked.
It is true a high number of hard drug users first smoked marijuana, but does that mean that behavior drove or caused them to take harder drugs? The anti-legalization advocates claim that the high correlation argues that it does. I see some problems with argument. One is that the correlation between consuming of alcohol and the consumption of hard drugs is much stronger. There is a strong correlation between those who smoke marijuana and those who smoke cigarettes. Are we then to argue that drinking alcohol or smoke cigarettes leads to the consumption of hard drugs?
The reason no one is making such arguments about alcohol or cigarettes being gateway drugs is that there is a high number of people who drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes who never take hard drugs. And that is my issue with linking marijuana with hard drugs, for there are millions of people who have smoked marijuana and have never then consumed hard drugs. Add to the mix is that when the Netherlands legalized marijuana, there was no increase in hard drug consumption.
Does marijuana lead those who smoke it into the taking of other drugs? Indicators suggest that other causes and issues are likely at play, not the smoking of marijuana.
Likewise, I’ve not been overly impressed with the argument that marijuana is a harmless drug. It is a drug which is much like alcohol, that when consumed affects the body. It is not harmless just as alcohol is not harmless. The degree of intoxication as well as detoxification is directly related to the amount consumed. The more consumed in a short period of time the more marijuana impacts the body, judgment and conduct. Just as people get addicted to alcohol, people can become addicted too to marijuana.
The United States effort to expunge alcohol from society was a dismal failure. People consumed alcohol underground and increased black market related crime. America realized that its citizens were going to drink alcohol whether it was legal or not, and that it there are fewer social consequences in permitting and regulating it manufacturing, sale and consumption in the open than to have it unregulated and driven undergrounds. Are we as a society at the same point with marijuana? Should we legalize and regulate marijuana just like we do alcohol? Should we be more pragmatic about as do the Dutch?
At one time in my life, I would have been firmly in the anti-legalization. While I’m open to the idea, I’m not an advocate for legalizing of marijuana. If legalizing of marijuana was on Virginia’s ballet this year I’m uncertain how I would vote. Fortunately, due to the nature of downstate politics in Virginia, I have several years to become more settled on the matter.