Conservative Corner- Chuck Schumer gets marijuana right

By on April 25, 2018

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in an interview with Vice News on Friday, April 20 that he would be introducing legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

The legal status of marijuana in the United States is currently very muddled.

Federally, it is outlawed under the Controlled Substances Act, a statute in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, signed into law by President Richard Nixon. It is listed under Schedule 1 along with drugs like heroin, which have high risk for abuse and no medical value.

However, several states chose to legalize the drug statewide during the Obama administration, during which the Department of Justice said it would not be enforcing the statute in states which opted to legalize it. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration, there have been noises about rescinding this policy, but as of now they have not.

What Schumer is proposing would essentially codify the Obama administration’s policy on the issue. It would not mean that marijuana would be legal everywhere in the country, because each state could still choose to outlaw it. It would mean that enforcement of any marijuana restrictions would have to be done by the states involved without any assistance from the federal government.

Public support for legalization is also at an all time high. Seventy one percent of Democrats and fifty one percent of Republicans are now in support, according to Gallup polls. In 2004, those numbers were just thirty five and twenty one percent, respectively. Because of the shift, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have warmed to the idea. Recently, former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) came out in support of marijuana legalization. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), who represents one of the first states to legalize the drug, says that he has spoken with President Trump and has gotten him to agree to a federalism based solution where states can choose their own policies.

This is all good news. I have never been a fan of what have come to be known as “victimless crimes.” The justification for things being illegal, such as stealing, is that they are crimes against all of society in addition to the person(s) victimized, and the government is needed to provide redress.

Even if we assume that people who smoke marijuana are making a bad move that is hurting themselves, they aren’t hurting society per se. People make bad decisions all the time, and we don’t bother to make them illegal. This is the point of a free society; if you are not free to be wrong and make mistakes, you are not free.

This does not mean there cannot be reasonable restrictions on the drug; far from it. Consider what we have already done as a society with alcohol. It’s illegal to use it when not of a certain age. It’s illegal to use when doing certain activities, such as driving. And there is a strong social stigma against people who use it too much. This seems to me to be a much better way of dealing with the problem.

You may object; even if the public supports legalization, what if they’re wrong? Many will argue that the reason marijuana and other drugs were outlawed in the first place was to not normalize them.

If they are normalized, the thinking goes, we will become a society of hedonists, unconcerned with doing our duties to our friends, family and coworkers because we’re sitting around high all day.

I think that concern is exaggerated, but not unsympathetic.

The problem is that even though the law has tried to do just that, it has failed. Public support continued and continues to go up. If the goal of the law was to guard against normalization, it plainly failed. If you are truly concerned with the growing acceptance of marijuana usage, no law will be able to keep it down forever unless you make an affirmative case to people.

I think the best argument is that people should be allowed to make decisions that you find bad so long as they aren’t hurting other people. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Schumer does not have a federalist approach to other issues, but he does get it right when he says that “I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined because they had small amounts of marijuana and served time in jail. Ultimately, it is the right thing to do.”

In the interests of full transparency, three of those people were roommates of mine that were caught early last semester. Did I find what they were doing annoying? Yes. I do not think, however, there is good justification for it being illegal.

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