Updated: May 18, 2021
We have a long history when it comes to our battles with what can be moral issues versus legal. Currently, we are viewing the battle of the legalization of marijuana and trying to balance the disparities with the incarceration rate of people of color for low-level drug offenses. The stigma alone that is often associated with the drug has long played out in the justice system. As I listen to both sides of the argument, I cannot help but wonder if we are repeating the same arguments both sides had with the 18th Amendment. Essentially, the 18th Amendment made it illegal to manufacture, transport, or sell alcoholic beverages so many can freely indulge in today. Later, that Amendment would be repealed in the 21st Amendment for many of the same reasons being discussed today.
In trying to reconcile the history and my personal beliefs, I have to wonder, what is next. Both alcohol and marijuana impair judgment. One has medicinal properties and perhaps the other does not unless you further investigate the benefits of red wine and heart disease. However, the bottom line is, how far are we willing to push the boundaries of a free society to prove a point. It is quite possible to solve both problems without going through what many perceive as the extreme measures taken by New York state. Non-smokers should not be subjected to secondhand smoke from cigarettes or marijuana. When I walk past an office building, many do not enforce any smoking policy so I often walk into a cloud of smoke. Truth be told, long before this current legalization, I also smelled marijuana in many public places such as the park or office buildings. So what has essentially changed with this legalization? The main and perhaps most important change was decriminalizing the stigma of marijuana. People of color are often imprisoned for these and other nonviolent drug offenses at an alarming rate over non-minorities. The problem, however, with sweeping reform that lazily and haphazardly addresses this issue, is that those who also profit from this benefit can also be the violent drug dealers and those who they prey upon the addicts. Society has become a double standard. We have not learned lessons from prohibition. Underage alcohol continues to plague communities, families, and people across all racial spectrums. Drugs also plague these same communities and particularly minors at an alarming rate. The flip side to decriminalizing can also be seen as giving a green light to continue to partake in its recreational use.
Also not discussed are the impairment issues, quality of life, and impact on crime. Changes were needed with the law but as a society, we keep taking shortcuts. Bail reform instead of prison reform is at play here. A person should not be locked up for a nickel bag of marijuana but should the resolution be to allow them to grow and/or carry twice that amount? What is the difference between driving around with an open bottle of alcohol versus a cloud of marijuana smoke? Why is one ok and not the other? We have become accustomed to living without boundaries which is what happens when there are no checks and balances or no one invested to do the hard work to fix the laws that are broken versus abolishing them altogether.
The takeaway here is people should have the freedom to do things, however, there should be a balance to make sure that there is no possibility that those freedoms infringe upon the rights and quality of life of others. There is also a moral obligation to ensure that recovering addicts or those who are predisposed to addictive behaviors do not gravitate to marijuana as a gateway drug to non-legal ones. I for one also wonder, will the legalization of marijuana hold our local elected leaders accountable to give resources back to the at-risk communities from sale revenue or line the pockets of the wealthy instead?