Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, August 7, 2017

Making the case for stigmatizing heavy use as marijuana reform continues apace

This new National Review commentary authored by Max Bloom, headlined "How Much Should Society Stigmatize Marijuana?," makes the case for society distinguishing different levels of marijuana use and stigmatizing heavy use.  Here are excerpts:

A new study ... [suggests] legalizing marijuana has about the same negative effect on academic performance as that of legalizing access to alcohol. This is not necessarily an argument against the movement to legalize marijuana, which has been gaining steam in the United States.  We legalize alcohol, after all.  Giving people the choice to make bad decisions is very often the right thing to do, and it is shameful to lock people up for behavior that most Americans do not even consider morally wrong.

But let’s not pretend legalization would exact no costs. What this study shows is that it would probably hurt low-performing and unmotivated students and encourage more people to smoke for the first time. It may also keep more workers out of the labor force — particularly male ones — as previous studies have observed.

If we accept that marijuana is not a moral issue and should be legalized, the question then becomes what the optimal social attitude toward it should be. Given the above evidence of its negative effects, we should adopt a position of stigmatizing anything more than light usage.

Consider that most people would not judge it immoral to smoke habitually or to eat poorly and shun exercise, yet there is still some measure of social censure for both. These behaviors are harmful to society, we reason, and ought to be discouraged. Obesity rates are slowing now and cigarette consumption has dropped dramatically over the last several decades. There are probably many reasons for both trends, but social censure almost certainly plays some role.

And there are a host of other activities that have little to do with morality and are clearly permissible in moderation but represent at the same time dangerous temptations.  There is evidence that video games are responsible in part for the declining labor-force participation of young men.  Internet pornography may be discouraging marriage.  It is probably possible to become addicted to both.  These problems, like marijuana dependence, will almost certainly be concentrated in communities that are already under enormous strain from the collapse of traditional social institutions, as Charles Murray exhaustively documents in his book Coming Apart.  It won’t be upper-middle-class liberals who will be hurt by widespread access to marijuana or increasingly addictive video games or forms of pornography. Rather, it will be young men, and to a lesser extent young women, who grow up in families without the resources, both economic and cultural, to ensure that they finish college, enter the job market, and get married.

Yet there is little appetite in affluent communities for enforcing the sort of stigmas that could help establish norms of healthy behavior.  Many will quietly agree that it’s pathetic to play video games, watch porn, or smoke pot all day, but the live-and-let-live attitude tends to triumph over such judgments in public spaces.  At times, it even morphs into outright endorsement of these activities.  This is a mistake, particularly if we are going to go down the uncertain road of legalizing marijuana.  At the very least, we should take up a policy of cautious neutrality toward moderate, responsible use and an attitude of stern condemnation toward anything further.  Such behaviors are not okay, we should say; they do not reflect a worthwhile variant of the good life; they are not an acceptable model for how one ought to live. We court disaster otherwise.

Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink


Bill Otis argues, why add to substance problems? My reply is that tobacco and alcohol kill 500,000 people directly. Marijuana kills 50 people a year, all in car crashes, none directly. Then add illegal blood alcohol levels in half the crashes, the murders and the suicides. Suicide takes away more productive person years than any other medical condition. You now have a problem of logic and consistency. I would equally support Draconian measures to ban alcohol as much as I would support the legalization of marijuana. Since there is zero chance of alcohol Prohibition, one must support legalization.

The management of alcohol abuse is the model of the management of marijuana abuse. Most people drink socially, have a good time, and do no damage. We leave them alone. The same should apply to marijuana.

I do object to one mistaken assertion in the article. Blacks and poor Hispanics have a lower rate of substance abuse than whites, probably due to less money. Do not worry about them.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 7, 2017 9:12:33 PM

Post a comment