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Why I Oppose Legalising Marijuana

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a marijuana/cannabis leaf
On 2 July I discussed Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei's bill to decriminalise marijuana for medicinal purposes. A couple of weeks later I posted an exclusive interview I took with a marijuana user. Today I will explain why I oppose legalising marijuana but support its decriminalisation for both medicinal and recreational use. However I will make it absolutely clear that I am opposed to and would discourage people from using marijuana for recreational purposes.

First I need to clear up my intentionally misleading title and perhaps confusing introduction to this post by drawing a distinction between decriminalisation and legalisation. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in society that the government should specifically legalise, as such an action implies that the government has the inherent authority to permit or deny a particular thing or activity. For example, what would you wish to happen if it were currently the case that the possession, trade and consumption of bread was illegal? Should the government pass a law legalising bread - or would it be better if they instead decriminalised bread - on the grounds that the state has no jurisdiction to legislate for or against it? What about your very existence: should living be legal? The government has no authority to specifically permit the continuation of the life of an individual. Such a decision can surely only be made by the individual. So in the case of marijuana, it should either be either illegal or simply not ruled upon at all. Refraining from making a ruling on something allows for individuals to make decisions unaffected by an assumed belief that the government has endorsed it by actively legalising it. It is preferable to passively permit a harmful activity (such as bungy-jumping) or substance (such as marijuana) than to actively permit it as would be the case if marijuana were legalised.

I could employ the argument that the use of marijuana is justified for the purpose of pain-relief and then follow on from this that it therefore has a legitimate use, and subsequently question the justification of a statuatory line of distinction between medicinal and recreational use. Alternatively I could take the line that marijuana is far less harmful to the body than glue-sniffing or methamphetamine for instance, and should therefore not be legislated against as these other harder drugs are. Again, I could compare the adverse effects of the recreational abuse of marijuana with the destructive effects of drunkeness, concluding that if alcohol is not legislated against then neither should marijuana be. However useful these arguments may be, this post will support decriminalisation from another angle.

The issue of whether an action or thing should be permissible or not is usually blindingly simple. If it does not adversely affect a third party against their will, then the law has no place in the matter. Although I hold that our very bodies are a gift to each of us from God, and that we should value and care for these "jars of clay", the government does not have jurisdiction to force us to be good. The question of how far this principle is to be taken is fundamental to the euthanasia/suicide debate. Should people have the right to choose how to end their own lives - and in what circumstances? But this is an issue for another post.

But what about when marijuana harms innocent bystanders such as children living in the house of a marijuana user, or neighbors upset with the odour wafting over the fence in the evening? First I must demonstrate that this question is baseless as it directs blame at the medium of the damage instead of accusing the perpetrator of the damage. If, on the subject of loud music I asked, "What about when loud music harms innocent bystanders...", it is generally accepted that it would be an incorrect response to ban music. Instead, people should be free to play music so long as it does not adversely affect others. Music played too loud is harmful to the ears and is therefore should not be imposed upon anyone without their prior consent. If certain people wish to enjoy such loud music and knowingly damage their hearing, then that is their prerogative. The government has no mandate to legislate on acceptable decibel levels for music when nobody's hearing is being damaged against their will. Our frustration and anger at loud music played at night by the neighbors should not be targeted at the music itself, but at the immature idiots who are abusing it. They are welcome to either turn down the volume, plug in headphones or drive out into the country and crank up the stereo, but it is unacceptable to harm others against their will.

The question should then be rephrased, "What about when marijuana-users harm innocent buystanders..." The subject then becomes the perpetrator of the harm rather than the medium. Marijuana use is detrimental to the human body, and it is therefore unfair to subject young children to its smoke as they do not have the ability or knowledge to know how to handle such an environment. The solution is clear: people who are unable to give consent (children), or who do not give consent to be affected by others using marijuana in their environment - must not have the same imposed upon them. Since we have already found that the problem is not the medium but the perpetrator, it is clear that either the perpetrator or the bystander must be removed from the environment. An example of this would be where marijuana users find some place else to smoke their weed so that harm to bystanders is significantly reduced or completely removed.

Lets decriminalise marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes and allow New Zealand to move forward into the 21st Century on this matter.

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