What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
The following is an op-ed submission which was rejected for publication by The Deseret News.
Should the federal government outlaw the production and/or consumption of a naturally growing plant? The Deseret News editorial board believes so, supporting in its recent editorial the Obama administration’s “strong policy against the legalization of marijuana.” A better question is whether the government even has the authority to proclaim it illegal and criminalize its use.
Many people seem to take it for granted that an all-powerful government can shape society as it pleases, and for this the government is often praised. But the federal government is constrained by the limited, delegated powers found in the Constitution — and even then, its actions must be reconciled with the philosophy of liberty the Constitution was instituted to secure and defend.
The war on drugs — marijuana included — has no such constitutional foundation. If any government is to regulate and enforce such laws, it is those of the several states; the federal government has no authority to do so. Worse still, the government’s war against its own citizens has cost $2.5 trillion and has been anything but successful. Drug use is at record-setting levels, prisons are filled to the brim with non-violent drug “offenders,” and police forces nationwide have been rapidly and dangerously militarized.
Constitutional authority or not, can the government ever legitimately possess the authority to criminalize the growing and ingesting of a plant such as marijuana? To answer this question it is important to first affirm an obvious but oft-ignored fact: a government cannot possess authority to do anything its citizens could not morally do on their own. Or, as Ezra Taft Benson said: “The proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act.”
No one of us can justifiably use coercion (or the threat thereof) against a neighbor who decides to grow a marijuana plant and smoke or ingest it. We therefore cannot delegate to our government that non-existing authority; any government that legislates and enforces such a policy does so illegitimately.
The Deseret News editorial worries that “the last thing the nation needs is an official stamp of approval” by decriminalizing marijuana. Does deciding not to use coercion against an individual who performs an action mean that one necessarily approves of that action? By not having laws criminalizing dangerous sports, video game addictions, or suicide, does that mean that we have implicitly given individuals approval to engage in such activities? Must we make illegal every action, item, or lifestyle of which we disapprove? Moral laws exist to defend life, liberty, and property; outlawing a plant hardly falls within the proper role of government.
Our society can collectively convey its disapproval of things such as marijuana, but most do so through legitimate and moral means such as persuasion and education. The Deseret News opines that Utahns “need little convincing, generally, that marijuana use should remain illegal.” Rhetoric such as this must be better translated to provide a more complete understanding. Put differently, they are saying that Utahns generally believe that it’s okay to fine, incarcerate, and otherwise use force against peaceful people who grow and consume naturally occurring plants.
If this is true, it paints a contrasting picture to what many think Utahns generally stand for. If true, we stand neither for the Constitution nor for limited government, let alone liberty. If true, we reject persuasion and advocate force to bring about desired societal goals.
Decriminalizing marijuana is not about “approving” its use, but rather defending individual life, liberty, and property by only consenting to governmental powers that are legitimately delegated from consenting individuals who themselves possess such authority. Those who claim to champion the Constitution and promote individual liberty must necessarily support repealing the “strong policy against the legalization of marijuana” which the Deseret News editorial board applauds.