“Moral virtue is a mean between two vices...one involving excess, the other deficiency.” ~Aristotle
Is the consumption of mind-altering drugs a virtuous enterprise? Does the political application of policy that vindicates self-debasement a governmental virtue? And is a citizenry better off with social norms that foster indulgence, self-destruction, and impulsiveness? As a right-leaning centrist on the “Marijuana Legalization” issue I believe the Aristotelian “Golden Mean” to be the ideal in determining public policy.
The two extremes of this debate are legalization (indulgence) and criminalization (insensibility)…neither of which provides an overarching solution that considers the ideals of justice, temperance, and social responsibility (both by the individual and government). This is why the best policy on the marijuana question is the middle path of permanent decriminalization because it strikes a balance between cold indifference and hedonism.
By “decriminalization” I mean that public possession and use should be treated similar to traffic violations (punishable with a fine and generally considered poor behaviour) but that people should never be subjected to arrest, confiscation, police charges, or the criminal justice system for their actions/habits. Additionally, I would want medical marijuana to be fully available where verifiably applicable, repeat offenders urged (not forced) to undergo drug rehabilitation, creating “smoke free zones” around vulnerable areas (elementary schools, playgrounds, cemeteries, and churches), while reapplying large-scale trafficking laws (many many kilos or more).
This is because I believe marijuana to: a.) Further deteriorate our national health (both mental and physical) b.) Carry an undesirable social influence on an already indulgent society (especially on children and adolescents) and c.) That national governments should not be in the business of peddling vice (let alone promoting it) for tax revenues to aid redistribution schemes.
National Health & Young People
“Drink or food which is above or below a certain amount destroys the health, while that which is proportionate both produces and increases and preserves it.” ~Aristotle
We, as a Canadian collective, are already overweight, drinking too much alcohol, eating unhealthily, smoking a ton of (legal and black market) tobacco, living sedentary lifestyles, and taking ungodly amounts of prescription drugs. Does adding legal marijuana to this toxic mix somehow improve our deteriorating health situation?
Firstly let us look at overall societal health in regards to indulgences. The Government of Canada reports that, “Although handled more like food in Canada, alcohol is a mind-altering drug” and that “three million drinking Canadians risk acute illness…and at least four and half million risk chronic conditions such as liver disease.”3 In terms of physical health 26.7% of Canadians (or 10.1 million individuals) are considered obese and almost a third of women are not getting enough exercise while a quarter of men are living extremely sedentary lifestyles. 4 For prescription drugs, a full 41% of Canadians take something at least every couple of days and the pharmacological component of our national health care expenditures tops $29 billion annually (the second highest cost in our national health spending). For tobacco we have about 4.2 million smokers in Canada and the annual economic impact stands at about $16 billion in health care costs (mortality, morbidity, fires, policing, and research/prevention).
"This is a uniquely disturbing trend since we are quite unaware of the long-term social implications for categorizing marijuana alongside alcohol and cigarettes. Again, do we want our fellow citizens to willfully debase themselves in the service of destructive self-indulgence and additional tax revenue?"
Analyzed in aggregate, this data exposes some very worrying social norms surrounding indulgence in our country and marijuana legalization is likely to exacerbate these existing problems. Lifestyle related ailments and diseases dominate our national health situation and we are struggling to find ways to counter a technological and instant gratification culture that further enables these tendencies. And this is not to say that marijuana is the worst of the aforementioned health concerns (it is definitely not as negligible as soda pop while paling in comparison to tobacco) but it is a health risk nonetheless and we should be wary of normalizing its consumption alongside the myriad of dangerous habits we already embrace.
This is especially prescient when considering the long-term mental health risks of heavy marijuana use:
• “Cannabis use directly affects the brain—especially the parts responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotions, and reaction time.” (CDC)
• “Sustained heavy cannabis use over several decades produced substantial declines in cognitive performance that may not be wholly reversible.” (WHO)
• “Long-term effects of cannabis on your brain can include an increased risk of addiction, memory [loss], [inability to] concentrate, and [reduced] IQ.” (Health Canada)
The Canadian government reports that “mental illness is experienced by 1 in 3 Canadians during their lifetime” and that “1 in 7 Canadians use health services for a mental illness.” 6 Compounding existing problems by throwing more gasoline on the fire is not the direction we should be going in. Rather, as a society, we should be stigmatizing destructive behaviours for the explicit dangers they carry with them.
In the social sphere we see marijuana use as distinctive factor in “impaired educational attainment, reduced workplace productivity, and increased risk of other substances.” 7 Furthermore marijuana use has been shown to be significant factor in automobile accidents and rising insurance rates in places where it has been legalized like Colorado State. 8 And when looking at youth attitudes towards marijuana we see that “fewer adolescents believe that regular cannabis use is harmful to health…[and they] are initiating use at younger ages, and more are using cannabis on a daily basis.” 9
This is a uniquely disturbing trend since we are quite unaware of the long-term social implications for categorizing marijuana alongside alcohol and cigarettes. Again, do we want our fellow citizens to willfully debase themselves in the service of destructive self-indulgence and additional tax revenue? We should expect more of our society, our government, and ourselves. Canadians should be wary of naively wandering into an increasingly hedonistic culture that puts personal pleasure/escape above health, wellness, and responsibility. We need more thinking, rational, and a well-reasoned person to aid our national character and marijuana does nothing to advance these objectives. 10
“Virtue lies in our power, and similarly so does vice; because where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act..." ~Aristotle
Aristotle never encountered marijuana in his day-to-day life in ancient Greece. But his philosophizing on temperance is applicable not only to individual action and morality but also to governmental policy and the social fabric. Here in Canada we have recently legalized the use, production, and sale of cannabis and I take issue with Mr. Trudeau’s decision to make this a central plank of his Ministry (more pressing criminal matters clearly exist i.e. Cybercrime, opiate abuse, black market firearms, terrorism, and human trafficking). Insofar as the national interest and public health are concerned, decriminalization appears to be the Golden Mean to which we should strive for. This is because it would not legally destroy a citizen’s life, would attach a needed social stigma to it, would deter flagrant consumption in public, would save a ton of wasted police/judicial/prison costs, and create a political grand bargain between the left and right.
In a hypothetical libertarian republic I would be fully on board with privatized legalization but given the reality of the Canadian welfare state, and the massive taxation that is imposed upon us (and is not going away anytime soon), I would encourage temperance to my fellow Canadians in personal choices and policy. We are all in this together and we only stand to benefit by being healthy, sober, focused, and mentally attuned to the world around us.
Rebuttal to ‘Decriminalization & The Golden Mean’
Lizzy Jaramillo (Liberal)
Gregory Zink (Center-Right)
I would argue that our initial divergence in opinion starts in your categorization of marijuana as an “indulgence”. In your piece you reference the societal health effects of other “indulgences” such as tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs. All three of these substances are some of the most highly addictive substances in the world and marijuana has been scientifically proven to be less addictive than all three of these, however, marijuana is illegal. It is interesting to note that David Nutt (who is the former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to the UK Government) was forced to resign from his position for advocating for the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of marijuana.
Professor Nutt extensively researched marijuana and other substances and published a harm rating for each. Substances were ranked and some types of pharmaceutical drugs were given the number 3, alcohol the number 5, and tobacco number 9, as the most harmful substances in the world. Marijuana is ranked number 11. Other studies have concluded that alcohol, barbiturates, and tobacco are all among the top 5 most addictive substances in the world. Virtually no study would conclude that marijuana is one of the most addictive substances in the world – yet the others are not only decriminalized but completely legal.
I would suggest that your decriminalization argument does not go far enough. Legalization would not necessarily lead to “indulgence” as we have seen that the rates of use, and addiction to, marijuana is relatively low comparable to other legal substances such as alcohol and prescription drugs. Counterintuitively, in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, use of marijuana amongst teenagers has gone down. Furthermore, the difference between legalization and decriminalization would be that legalization would allow for regulation of marijuana. Users could measure the amount of THC content in the substance they are about to consume and make an informed, and safer, decision about their consumption. Without legalization, marijuana supply would still be relegated to the black market where there is no regulation and consumers have virtually no control over the quality of the product or the THC content therein.
It would not be for national government’s ability to “peddle vice”, it would be for entrepreneurs who choose to go into this new industry. It is certainly a benefit that the government would be able to generate tax revenue through legalization as previously all revenue in this industry had gone to support drug dealers and cartels. With legalization comes transparency and this is not brought about through decriminalization. The economic benefits have already been proven in states where this market has become legalized, such as Colorado, which is now the number one economy of any state in the US just years after legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Businesses are flocking to this new market with little impact on the society as a whole, which is shown with crime rates going down, and even a sharp decline in opioid deaths. This is a strong argument for legalization instead of just decriminalization.