Libertarians Need to Rethink Support for Drug Legalization
Does a man's death from swallowing a bag of pot during an arrest illustrate the evil of outlawing drugs? No, just the opposite.
December 22, 2009 - 12:00 am
A truly sad story about a 23-year-old Panama City man dying while being subdued by Bay County sheriff’s deputies has reawakened the debate about the legalization of marijuana. On December 11, 2009, Andrew Grande choked on a plastic bag full of marijuana as police attempted to arrest him on a violence charge. A video shows police valiantly trying to save his life once it became apparent that he was having difficulty breathing.
Two talk show hosts in Panama City have been discussing the case in the early morning hours — and revealing a divide on the right. Burnie Thompson of WYOO, the libertarian, has called Grande “a casualty of the war on drugs” and contended that because marijuana is illegal, Grande felt “compelled” to swallow a bag of it to avoid punishment.
Nonsense, says Doc Washburn on station WFLF. He invited former Congressman Ernest Istook from the Heritage Foundation and Tina Trent, who blogs on crime, to speak about the dangers of marijuana to the user and to society. Trent indicated that Grande had faced probably only a misdemeanor charge; she pointed to studies showing that the illegal drug trade flourishes despite the legality of marijuana in certain states and other countries. And legalizing marijuana will remove the freedom employers now have to test for the judgment-impairing drug.
The position on the legalization of marijuana provides the point of departure from the traditional libertarianism of Barry Goldwater. In abandoning the duty to enforce social order, today’s libertarians have made a devil’s pact with the pro-drug forces of George Soros and company.
My libertarian friends like to say, “I’m a libertarian, not a libertine.” But though many of the advocates of libertarianism lead socially conservative lives, their agendas promote libertinism — especially when it comes to legalizing drugs. They forget that the moral order they have inherited is put at even further risk as laws change to allow more destructive behavior.
To the libertarian, such a profession would also not present a problem, as prostitution does not. But the two — drug use and the self-debasement of prostitution and pornography — go hand in hand. Ask any strip club dancer how easy it is to get up on stage stone cold sober. Ask anyone who has been under the influence about the stupid things he did. Indeed, Grande probably started young, when he was impressionable. And recent reporting has shown that our “safe schools czar,” Kevin Jennings, was head of an organization that used the schools to promote homosexual sex between boys and men. Certainly the ability to engage in such destructive behavior is enhanced by the use of drugs.
And this is where the libertarian brings up the other “drug”: alcohol.
Libertarians are fond of pointing to the wreckage caused by the abuse of alcohol: deterioration of health, traffic deaths, and domestic violence. This is true, but it is an analogy that emerges from an abstraction. Libertarians argue that the only difference between the two is traditional: we have stamped alcohol consumption with a seal of social approval.
But I would argue that tradition should be a reason for its continued legal status and for denying legal status to marijuana.
The sanction for alcohol use goes back to the Bible. In the New Testament, references to its use in ceremonies like the Last Supper and the wedding at Cana appear. But Jesus also warns about excessive use. In the Old Testament, alcohol is shown to cloud the judgment of Lot. The Bible, in this way, tells us when and how we can use alcohol.
This means very little, though, in the arid moral climate of today’s libertarianism.
But I would argue that it should, not only from my position as a Christian, but from my position as a citizen of a country whose foundational values spring from the Judeo-Christian heritage. The sanction for alcohol use has lasted for millennia. It has become part of our rituals at meals, celebrations, and religious services. That is a large part of why Prohibition failed.
Marijuana, in contrast, has always been counter-cultural in the West. Every toke symbolizes a thumb in the eye of Western values. So it follows that in order to maintain our culture, we need to criminalize this drug.
The prohibition against marijuana is one brick in the foundation of our society. On a practical level the use of marijuana also works to knock out other bricks, like the work ethic, emotional engagement, sexual inhibition, and the ability to reason. For example, when one of my college students leads off in defense of the legalization of marijuana, he invariably does so in a disjointed manner, unable to muster the resources of reason and conviction to his argument. (He also does this in his essays.) One caller, “Dave,” to the Doc Washburn program displayed the same apathetic, but friendly, attitude.
While one cannot come to class drunk without drawing attention, he can attend under the influence of marijuana, sitting in the back of the room with a glazed, though not unpleasant, expression.
But that’s exactly what the left wants: a nation of young zombies — indifferent, unengaged, and uncaring. They provide amenable subjects to indoctrination. Alcohol may fuel fights, but marijuana, as its advocates like to point out, makes the user mellow. The toker wants to make love, not war.
The libertarian maintains that values are the function of the private sphere: the family and church. But as Goldwater argued in the riot-plagued year of 1964, when safety and order are not maintained by the government, our freedoms are affected. In so many ways, the legalization of drugs will lead to the further breakdown of order.
To give sanction to a drug that robs the individual of reason and conviction is to give up on our way of life. It is another surrender to the counter-culture. It sends a dangerous message to young people. A recent study shows that the creeping sanction through legalization of “medical” marijuana in certain states is giving young teenagers a sense of safety about marijuana use.
Marijuana killed Andrew Grande, not only in the literal sense, but in the sense that it abetted his descent into a very sad, counter-cultural lifestyle. Its legalization is supported by the same forces that promote Kevin Jennings, one-world government, Gaia worship, and legalized prostitution. All these elements work against the traditional libertarian values of initiative, freedom, and honor. Libertarians need to rethink their position on drug legalization.