One of the challenges in approaching any complicated topic is to deal with each particular slice of the discussion on its own merits. Instead, we usually try to handle the whole pie all at once, which usually leads to handling each bit quite poorly. With that in mind, let’s look at one limited aspect of the debate over legalizing marijuana: the premise that since marijuana is no worse than alcohol, it’s only fair to give it the same legal status as alcohol.
I think most people fight this idea by trying to show how much worse than alcohol marijuana is. Instead, I’ll grant the assertion for argument’s sake and show that even if marijuana advocates are right, there are still good reasons to not treat it the same as alcohol.
As I think anyone will agree, consuming alcohol in large quantities is bad. It’s bad for marriages. It’s bad for children. And it’s bad for simple health concerns. I also think anyone will agree that numerous Americans consume alcohol in precisely such quantities. Thus, I think reasonable people would agree that our current situation with regard to alcohol overuse is undesirable. If only there were some feasible way to fix it, we would want to.
Furthermore, the current efforts to control alcohol are an abject failure. Teenagers have virtually as much access to it as they would like, and this is certainly true of underage college students. Although drunk driving has been the focus of intense legal and media attention, the number of accidents and fatalities in which alcohol is a factor is still absurdly high. And of course alcohol is a major contributor to domestic assault. All of this is common knowledge.
But that’s the point. Even if marijuana is no worse than alcohol, why would we want to permit people to use yet another drug when the problems from alcohol abuse are so obvious?
If I may rephrase the argument a bit uncharitably, marijuana advocates seem to be saying the following: “Even though our society’s handling of alcohol has been abysmal, we think it’s only fair to let us start handling yet another drug just as badly. We know the social and personal problems from marijuana abuse are likely to be similar to those with alcohol, but it’s just not fair that we’re only allowed to have one substance that harms people, families, children, and society.”
Also, keep in mind that unlike alcohol, marijuana is not ordinarily consumed in moderation by anyone. The point of having access to it is to get high, the rough equivalent of being drunk. Nobody smokes a little pot with dinner for the flavor. So, the effect of legalizing marijuana would be to replicate only the worst parts of legalized alcohol.
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