Some cannabis prohibitionists contend that cannabis should remain illegal because its use is immoral. This immorality is such that it’s fair to use the criminal justice system to prevent it from happening. As this article will examine, not only is there no moral argument against cannabis, but the moral equation suggests that it should be legal.
The sort of person making this argument is usually some kind of wowser. This is the reason why this argument is becoming less common – proponents of it are dying off.
Usually, the argument takes some form of slippery slope argument. The usual patterns is that smoking cannabis is claimed to lead, by stepwise degeneracy, into the total abandonment of all healthy human values, until the user deteriorates into a wretched shell of the person they once were. Here the spectre of Reefer Madness can be seen once again.
The idea that cannabis use is inherently immoral harkens back to the religious fundamentalist idea that all pleasure is inherently sinful, on account of that it induces a person to worship the material world instead of God. It’s essentially a religious idea, and fundamentalist in the sense that the suffering caused by this admonition is ignored.
In reality, human beings have a need for recreational activity or they will become mentally ill. This is apparent from observing anywhere in history where those activities have been restricted. Pleasure is not inherently immoral, and it’s not immoral to enjoy one’s life, provided that one’s duties are still met and one’s responsibilities still discharged.
To the contrary – there is a moral imperative to enjoy one’s life, for if one does not do so, then bitterness, anger, frustration and depression are the consequences. These emotions invariably take themselves out on other people. Therefore, a person has a moral imperative to keep themselves happy enough that they can have a positive effect on other people. If using cannabis helps achieve this, so be it.
Morally speaking, the correct course of action to take at any given time is the one that minimises the suffering of conscious beings. It isn’t to blindly follow the law, and neither is it to blindly follow some crude ascetic concept of religious purity by banning and avoiding all recreational substances. If such a thing could be summarised, we might say that it’s closer to taking the correct decision in every situation, despite the pressures and temptations to take the wrong one.
Some might argue that people have more important things to do than to use cannabis. That’s all well and good, but it isn’t a sufficient argument to make cannabis illegal. It’s entirely possible that some people use cannabis when they could have been doing something more edifying or productive. This would still not constitute a moral demand to attack these people through the criminal justice system.
Others might argue that the moral imperative lies not with the prospective cannabis user, but with society, who ought to act to make cannabis less widely available. But this, too, is an example of putting abstract rules ahead of a sober calculation of which legal arrangement leads to the least suffering. Punishing cannabis suppliers and users cannot be the way forward.
It can hardly be argued that setting the Police and the criminal justice system onto someone for growing or using cannabis is the morally correct thing to do. The effect of being arrested and potentially dragged through court is more suffering than could ever possibly be prevented by breaking a cannabis habit. If moral considerations are important, then we need to look for a less brutal solution.
The most morally sophisticated way of dealing with cannabis is to make it legal, and to use some of the money freed up by this to fix any problem that might arise. It is estimated that legalising cannabis could save even a small country like New Zealand up to $500 million per year. This would provide ample funding to every drug counselling service in the whole country.
If this was coupled with a cultural change that saw cannabis dependency treated like dependency for legal drugs, instead of a moral failure for which one must be punished, it might be possible to encourage people who were dependent to get help instead of intending to force them away from cannabis by using the Police and prisons. If there is a moral argument around cannabis, that is surely the solution.
This article is an excerpt from The Case For Cannabis Law Reform, compiled by Vince McLeod and due for release by VJM Publishing in the summer of 2018/19.