They are going to do it anyway. So regulate it, tax it, and we all will benefit.
Alcohol is legal, so what difference does it make if pot is legal?
Prohibition does not work; we learned that lesson.
The government has no business telling people what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their homes. Therefore, make pot legal and leave people to live their lives.
These are just some of the arguments for legalizing recreational marijuana. Those who argue for its legalization seem to make their case based on pragmatics. Advocates for decriminalization contend that laws just don’t work—no amount of regulation will stop free people from indulging. Additionally, if we legalize recreational pot, it can be taxed, and everyone in society benefits from the revenue. Consequently, decriminalizing marijuana simply makes practical sense.
Nevertheless, laws do more than simply restrict behaviors. Laws also commend the type of conduct that we want to encourage. Laws curb the behaviors that we want to discourage while at the same time promote the actions that a society champions. H. Richard Niebuhr noted that legislation works toward an end goal: it leads toward the desires of individuals and social groups.
What Niebuhr realized is that legal codes reinforce a vision of the kind of people we want to be, and they promote the values that a society believes will bring about human flourishing. Therefore, when we consider the question of legalizing recreational marijuana, we do well to think beyond pragmatics and ask the bigger question, “What vision does legalization cast for our future?”
The flight from reality
Marijuana is a drug that takes users into a disembodied state, and this is why so many find it relaxing. Marijuana immediately brings feelings of euphoria and heightens one’s senses, including one’s sense of time. And marijuana makes the user feel as though he has entered a new reality—one that is likened to an out-of-body experience. This intensified state happens within a relatively short period of time. So, many prefer marijuana to alcohol. Moreover, marijuana does not seem to have the same side effects as alcohol. Smoking pot avoids all the inconveniences of hangovers (with the exception that it smells). Therefore, advocates argue that legalizing recreational marijuana is really no different than alcohol.
Nevertheless, this argument ignores the reality that marijuana is a different kind of drug altogether. Marijuana alters the mind relatively quickly. While some comparison between marijuana and alcohol may seem legitimate, most proponents ignore the fact that a person can consume small amounts of alcohol without dramatic mind-altering effects. This is not to argue that one drug has more virtue than the other. I only make the point to distinguish the difference between recreational marijuana and alcohol. Marijuana provides immediate sensations of escape, whereas alcohol requires excess to achieve the same result.
Therefore, decriminalizing marijuana encourages an immediate flight from reality. The escape provided in marijuana merely recycles an age-old religion called Gnosticism. Gnosticism believed that the material world was intrinsically evil; thus, true happiness could only be found when we escape our material world. Cultures that encourage citizens to escape reality pay a heavy price.
Some of our lawmakers applaud the potential revenue from numbing the masses. But our states face challenges that have real and lasting effects on our communities. For example, in my New York community, we face problems such as poverty, racism, and city schools where teachers are asked to achieve unrealistic standards with minimal support. While lawmakers are passing legislation encouraging people to numb the mind, we demand our teachers nurture the mind. It seems odd, and a bit disjointed, that on one hand we champion the mind in education, and on the other we celebrate altering our mind for recreation.
The threat to the vulnerable
Nevertheless, many of the laws that promise escape ultimately lead to captivity. We were told that legalized gambling would be a windfall for our states. Scratch off tickets would be the hope for a better future. Yet how many widows and fatherless have lost their property, and their soul, to the local corner store? Promised freedom has actually enslaved the most vulnerable in our communities because we have failed to recognize that ideas have consequences. Escapism and its consequences leave a culture vulnerable to the complicated conditions of a fractured world.
People who are numb tend not to notice the injustice around them. But maybe that’s the point? When our heads are buried in the sand (or floating in the clouds), it is easy to close our eyes to the ills of our communities. Pragmatism can have a cost. And unfortunately, the ones asked to pay the bill are the ones who can least afford it. As Christians, we should be those who think through these issues seriously, with the good of our neighbors in mind—and then advocate for the flourishing of our communities.