On August 26, 2005 the San Jose Mercury News ran a story headlined: S.F. ground zero in pot club fight. The article, written by Mary Anne Ostrom, discusses the fight over whether medicinal-marijuana clubs should be regulated by the city or not. Proponents, according to Ostrom, argue that pot clubs can out number “Burger Kings and McDonalds combined.” In addition, there are concerns of “illegal” drug-dealing and money laundering by some of the club owners. San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, “a longtime proponent of marijuana decriminalization” is trying to introduce legislation aimed at legitimizing medicinal-marijuana clubs by requiring business licenses and strict accounting practices by the clubs. The opponents of regulation are concerned that authorities might use the information gathered to prosecute pot club customers and owners, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that medicinal-marijuana laws in states such as California “do not protect users or suppliers from federal prosecution.”
I believe this question can only be answered after examining the failure of our current drug policies. Currently, our drug laws are morality based. In somebody’s sense of morality, drinking alcohol is acceptable and using marijuana isn’t. An alcohol user faces no risk of losing their freedom by simply using alcohol (i.e. not drinking anddriving) while a marijuana user does even though it’s easily demonstrated that alcohol is much more destructive to our society. This capricious application of law is inherently undemocratic. In a democracy, the default position must always favor the individual’s freedom. Freedom to act as one pleases must always be assumed and should only be restricted when the greater good can be demonstrated. For example, we have the freedom to say what we wish; however, there are restrictions, the most famous example being, you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre. When you place any restriction on freedom you risk the possibility that some person may lose their freedom for violating that restriction. That may be fine and well if a greater good was achieved such as removing violent people from the general population, but if nothing was achieved, taking away a person’s freedom is just about the most egregious harm you can do to a person short of killing them. This is never an act you take lightly. The problem with morality based laws is, they don’t demonstrate any greater good being achieved, they only, at best, assume it. In fact, morality based laws are often enacted when the evidence suggests that no good may be achieved, as evidenced by our current drug laws. Alcohol is a drug that causes wide-spread problems and we once tried to prohibit it. This morality based experiment was a dismal failure and yet we try the same approach to other drugs we deem “dangerous”. It didn’t work with Prohibition and it isn’t working now, but still, there are thousands imprisoned without even coming close to solving the problem.
Drugs (and alcohol is a drug) are a problem in our society but taking away people’s freedom has done nothing to solve this problem and it is therefore immoral and undemocratic to continue to do so. There is simply no excuse to continue this “war on drugs” but there will be problems to deal with if drugs are legalized, and this is where regulation fits in. Users of drugs must accept responsibility for their usage. For example, intoxication can never be an excuse for a subsequent action even if addiction is involved. And paying taxes to help offset any problems that drug use may cause and protecting neighborhoods from excessive traffic, etc. is also a part of the responsibility that comes with freedom.