About a month ago I got into an argument on Twitter with a woman whom has been a sponsor of mine for a couple of years. I didn’t really mean to get into an argument with her, but I enjoy friendly debate so much that I sort of let myself be sucked into the quick retorts, which is an easy trapping of the Twitter medium.
The argument quickly devolved into ridiculous accusations by the woman, followed by her withdrawal of support. This was regrettable, not because I lost support, but because I didn’t mean to offend her. At the same time I was unable to walk away when it was clear she was becoming emotionally invested in the conversation and was clearly not being a rational actor.
It all began with an innocent tweet about the Liberals discussing the possibility of legalizing marijuana at their annual general meeting. Now, as far as I remember, the context of the tweet was nothing more than an automatic message created when I pressed a button on a media website. I do this roughly 30 times every day when I come across interesting pieces of news and information, a routine I enjoy because I get to share ideas and stories with Twitter followers.
I think when I first received the tweet from her, I was taken aback because I didn’t really even remember the context of her remark. For whatever reason, she had interpreted my tweet as some kind of implicit support for the Liberals and marijuana, whereas none was stated or even implied. As I tried to explain myself, I found myself confessing that although I’m not endorsing the Liberals or their policy, I don’t really have a problem with legalizing marijuana. More on this later.
Once I had confessed my support for legalizing marijuana, things quickly got silly. She accused me of supporting a crime that is akin to raping and murdering people, and in response I told her she was being ridiculous. Which she was. I mean, whatever side of the marijuana debate you sit on, the fact remains that somebody ingesting a substance into their body in the privacy of their own home is a personal choice that impinges upon the freedom of noone else and harms noone else other than those who may care for the health and welfare of that person.
Feeling as though I was unable to get through to this woman, I tried to create some form of understanding that would bridge our worlds. So, recalling that we’d had a drink together, I suggested that alcohol is like marijuana, in that it’s a psychoactive substance that inhibits cognitive function and temporarily affects the biochemistry of the brain, resulting in various choices, thoughts and actions that might not ordinarily occur while not under the influence. The key difference, I explained, is that it’s convenient for her that alcohol isn’t a social pariah.
Alcohol is disturbingly socially acceptable considering it is indeed a narcotic that results in far greater social disturbance, pain, suffering, disease and death than marijuana and all of its hunger-inducing bad movie-watching propensities. I mean, if we were to designate the legality of narcotics based solely on their relative dangers to human health, alcohol would be far and away the most illegal, most hazardous substance one could obtain. The statistics alone bear out this unassailable fact. If recent memory serves, it wasn’t a marijuana-fuelled crowd of frenzied Canucks fans who trashed downtown Vancouver last summer.
Frankly, I don’t really care if people think alcohol is perfectly harmless and marijuana is the devil’s weed, but I do find it bizarre that one is socially acceptable and the other is character maligning. For instance, if I went on Twitter right now and said I was going to go and drink until I blacked out, I would like receive validation for my choice, an assumption I was exaggerating, and a few “been there, done that” replies. If, however, I announced I was going to smoke weed until I was baked, eat a bag of chips, and then pass out comfortably in my bed, I’d come off as a drug addict and an irresponsible human being.
One could argue that marijuana has broken through some of these social stigmatas, especially on the west coast, rendering such a comparison to lesser relevance. But even if we change the comparison from alcohol to cocaine, I still think the importance should be the placed in the responsibility of the user of the narcotic and not the narcotic itself. Allow me to further explain.
If we can agree that almost everything that can be ingested is inherently harmful to a person, including things you can buy in a grocery store like Nyquil and Advil, then what we’re left with is personal responsility and all that comes with accepting the consequences of that responsibility. Curiously, at this very moment there’s a lawsuit from smokers against Big Tobacco, suing the very companies who provided them with the freedom of choice to take something they knew was damaging to their health, despite it being legal.
Eating too much salt or sugar can be a health hazard. Consuming red meat or foods high in saturated and trans fats can be considered a health hazard. There are innumerable foods and drinks one can absorb that, given the body’s chemistry and fitness, can be fatal. Indeed, before science and technology and supermarkets, eating the wrong plant or mushroom would kill you, and serve as a warning to your tribe or people that it wasn’t good for you. So, it seems to me that anything an adult person consumes is based on requiring the proper education and moderation to handle it.
In that vein, a person can irresponsibly consume copious amounts of salt legally, resulting in very poor health and high blood pressure, while a responsible person can consume moderate amounts of cocaine illegally, and retain a relatively strong state of mental and physical health. Keep in mind this isn’t really even opinion, this is just a logical reasoning of how the human body absorbs chemicals and nutrients.
In my opinion, the person who is able to be a functional member of society whilst ingesting or imbibing an illegal substance is a more socially responsible individual than the person who is less able to function in our society because of the assorted health issues associated with the abuse of a legal substance. What it comes down to, I suppose, is a belief that people should be endowed with the rights and responsibilities of what goes into their own bodies, and what they do with their own bodies, whether we’re talking about drugs, suicide, abortion, or nutrition.
The only conclusion that I can come to as to why people would treat responsible users of illegal substances with disdain and scorn is that some people are inherently afraid of freedom of choice. They want to be told what is good and bad without putting that to a test of logic or reason. It’s easier to get angry at me for choosing the rational argument than it is to question the authority that is based on irrational and arbitrary control of substances. The irony here, which continues to evade our lawmakers and politicians, is that the forbidden fruit tends to generate even more interest than one that is freely available for the plucking.
It doesn’t take much effort to look around at countries and jurisdictions which have taken a non-punitive approach to drugs to see that decriminalization or even legalization does nothing to proliferate them. On the contrary, Portugal showed greater reduced rates of drug abuse and the associated violence and crime under decriminalization than its European neighbours which maintain a U.S. style vendetta against free will and choice.
I recall watching an interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper a couple of years ago in which he opined that drugs are controlled by dangerous and violent criminals, before proceeding to explain that’s why they have to remain illegal. The illogic of concluding that something that isn’t regulated or controlled would somehow be safer for the population when left in the hands of criminals did not escape me. One needs to look no further than alcohol’s prohibition as an example of what happened when the government absolved itself of responsibility, and banned the substance thoughtlessly and carelessly. Criminals moved in and created a black market for the product.
I don’t write this as an advocate for drugs or alcohol, and although I’ve consumed both in my life, I don’t presently do so. But to me it comes down to an issue of choice and the likelihood that a person can responsibly use a substance. There are a great deal of prescription drugs, like OxyContin, which are considered too dangerous and addictive to outright legalize. The question then becomes one of assessing the social harm to pushing something into the underground economy where criminals have no moral responsibility to care for a drug user in the same way that a drug company does.
The answer to that question is probably something similar to the legality of alcohol. Drinking responsibly, not driving, and offering a socially acceptable and welcoming means of escaping alcohol abuse, are all way of curtailing a problem which, for reasons of legality, we do not apply to drugs. It seems to me that the solution to many of the drug problems that exist is to take greater control of illegal substances, decriminalize drug use, and offer a more holistic approach to drug abuse that encourages people to seek out help before they become the sort of violent offenders and drain on our medical system.