Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland has stated that he is going to sign a bill that will decriminalize possessing small portions of marijuana, a first step toward full legalization, which is a step that the rest of America should take too. The Maryland Senate voted on the bill during the afternoon on Monday, with a tally of 34-to-8 in favor of the legislation. The bill will now require fines as a penalty for possessing marijuana instead of strict punishments. This puts the state in good company, as there are 24 other states in the U.S. that have lessened the penalties for possession of marijuana for either medicinal or recreational use. This is good news as it indicates America is slowly, step-by-step, moving toward ending the war on drugs, which has proven to be a monumental failure.
There are a number of reasons why America needs to end the drug war, one of those reasons being that it violates a person’s natural rights. Natural rights are self-evident, either coming from being human or from God, depending on a person’s views and beliefs. One of the most important natural rights a human possesses is self-ownership. A human being owns their own life and body, and has the legal right to do whatever they want with it so long as the activity does not hurt others or deprive them of their property. This means that a person, whether in Maryland or Iowa, has the right to roll up a joint, smoke it, and listen to hours of Bob Marley records if they so choose. The government has no constitutional authority to tell that individual otherwise.
The fact that government should have no say in telling a person they cannot smoke marijuana, does not mean that using drugs is a positive moral decision. In fact, it is probably a very unwise choice for your health, but then again, so is eating greasy hamburgers and guzzling gallons of coffee. No one wants the government controlling what they can have for dinner, so why would anyone want the state to tell them what other substances they can put in their body? This kind of moral issue is something that should be discussed on a personal and cultural level. Churches and non-profit groups need to produce educational materials on narcotic substances and provide support networks to help individuals get clean, rather than support legislation banning drugs.
When a state like Maryland loosens its pot laws, this should indicate to the rest of America that prohibition does not work. Prohibition was attempted one other time in history when alcohol was made illegal. Rather than keep people from booze, it created a black market where gangsters built fortunes and criminal enterprises created warring factions that led to bloodshed and wide spread violence. The same exact thing is taking place with the war on drugs. The demand for narcotics did not go down when these substances were made illegal. So with the demand still high, gangs and cartels have decided to fill the void by creating a black market to supply people with the drugs they desire. This has led to gang wars, murders, theft, and all manner of criminal activity that decreases the quality of life for society at large. Legalizing substances means that legitimate free market producers will pop up and run the black market out of business, helping to reduce crime. The competition from a free market will also lead to safer substances being created, rather than the products out on the street, reducing deaths from untested experimental narcotics.
The war on drugs has also racked up a huge amount of unjustified debt. It is estimated that close to $51 billion a year is spent on the drug war, and what results are there to show for this large investment of taxpayer dollars? Drugs continue to exist and be pushed in the streets, and people continue to use them. With legalized narcotics, billions of dollars can be cut from the budget and used to help pay off the national debt, or for some other useful purpose.
Many non-violent drug offenders end up getting lengthy prison terms, filling up cells that could be used for dangerous criminals. This has led to overcrowding in many prisons, meaning that violent individuals who should be behind bars are walking free and are able to continue terrorizing communities. Ending the drug war means non-violent offenders are not put in prison, increasing space, and reducing the burden on taxpayers who have to support these individuals while they are incarcerated.
As one can see, it only makes sense to end the war on drugs. It maximizes freedom and reduces the size and scope of the federal government. Ending the drug war takes the fun out of illegal substances, making them less attractive, decreasing the overall demand for narcotics. As the tight grip of the government loosens on pot laws, more states like Maryland will begin to see the benefits of letting people make their own choices, enabling freedom and liberty to prevail over the nanny state.
Opinion by Michael Cantrell