A Feb. 2, 2009 Dallas Morning News editorial took the occasion of the publication of the photograph of Michael Phelps using a bong to think a little about marijuana.
They noted while some Americans were surprised, marijuana use -- assuming that Phelps was inhaling -- is not a statistically aberrant behavior for a 23 year old American male. Like many, they observed that the conduct seems particularly foolish in that Phelps' endorsement contracts probably are linked to the preservation of the heroic, clean cut image associated with champion athletes.
Not straining anyone's credulity, they believe that it is unlikely that anyone will try marijuana because the endorser of Sugar Frosted Flakes has been photographed with his mouth on a bong.
They then do their part to try to discourage the young adults who read their editorials from using marijuana by reporting on the greater average potency of marijuana available today compared to that of thirty years ago, and that that marijuana use can be habit forming, that its frequent use interferes with memory, and most tellingly, its use depends upon a criminal distribution system to reach the young adult consumers like Michael Phelps. Fortunately they did not have the audacity to insist that the first three health risks justify the criminal prohibition of use, and warrant the prosecution of almost 800,000 persons for possession each year. Because, of course, those health risks do not justify the prohibition.
But they brought up the case of Rodney Phelps, a minor Detroit marijuana dealer killed in prohibition related violence.
The two Phelpses lived worlds apart, but the famous one's indiscreet pleasures depend on the daily misery of the obscure one who died young and in pain. It bears repeating that the names and faces of innocent Mexicans killed by drug cartels – for whom marijuana is their biggest moneymaker – will never make it onto a Wheaties box to be seen by the privileged Americans who, like Michael Phelps, take a recreational bong hit now and again.
Yet their fates are not so easily separated. That's something pot smokers like Michael Phelps have to own, too.
The Dallas Morning News raises profoundly troubling moral questions that every marijuana user should confront: If the delivery of marijuana to the American user depends upon a system of violence that kills thousands in Mexico and United States, how can it be considered harmless? If I am a marijuana user, how can I look in the mirror and ignore my complicity in these crimes? For if I (and the twenty million other marijuana users) did not indulge in the luxury of using this drug, these lives would be spared.
Morally, it evades these questions by noting that the government has created this criminal system. This is the system that it has set up to meet the demand. The large scale marijuana trade has been an established fact in the U.S. for more than forty years. The violence in the trade is not new; it is intrinsic in prohibition businesses. 37 years ago the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse recommended that the use of marijuana be decriminalized. Congress and the President have been steadfastly unthoughtful about how this violence might be eliminated.
Marijuana smokers are usually curious about the marijuana they are using. What is it called? Where is it from? Most marijuana users who are not close to the cultivation and who obtain marijuana at the end of a long chain of transactions have probably thought about how it traveled from the field to their hand. But most dealers probably don't know the whole story. If they don't know, like many salesmen, they are as likely to make up a story to justify the price
The tragic reality is that figuratively, there is blood on the marijuana Americans use. The marijuana from Mexico and Colombia comes from organizations that use violence systematically. Should that reality stop us from using it? Should we make it our personal policy to only "Buy American?"
The case to stop using such marijuana on the ground that its production and distribution involves violence would be much stronger, however, if we had any confidence that the production and distribution of most of the goods we consume is free of violence and crime, including the criminal exploitation of workers. I do not have such confidence. I fear, quite reasonably, that a significant proportion of the fruits and vegetables that I eat, believing they are "good for me," are picked by farm workers who are at a minimum underpaid, who are frequently exploited or endangered by the working conditions, and some of whom die. And, further, that the men and women who attempt to organize them are subjected to violence and intimidation. Commodities such as sugar, cocoa, vegetable oil, rice, and other grains, and meat are produced by underpaid laborers, who toil in unsafe conditions, that result in loss of life. I am confident that there are coal miners whose labors keep the electricity flowing to my home and office who are exposed to dangerous conditions that result in their needless deaths. Violence against labor organizers may not be as common as violence in the drug trade, but certainly the price of all these products includes the blood of innocents.
I eat, but hundreds of thousands starve.
To give us peace regarding the knowledge of good and evil that is intrinsic in our lives as consumers, I concluded that the sin of the consumption that cannot be separated from evil is part of the original sin for which Jesus gave His life. If we were not fundamentally forgiven for our role in this system of sin, we would live in unrelieved despair. This forgiveness applies not only to what we might characterize as essentials, such as basic foods or clothing, but to everything.
If we were all as sensitive to the evil built into our commerce as the Dallas Morning News would have us be regarding marijuana, could our capitalist system function at all?
Is there a beneficial role for marijuana in our society? Certainly. Even at the most superficial level of the entertainment value of cannabis, it is a proper role in society no less justified than the role of, say, newspaper comic strips, or the much more dangerous thrills of non-productive activities like skiing, white water boating, mountaineering, spelunking and many other sports.
On moral grounds, the Dallas Morning News, recognizing the intrinsic violence of the prohibition industries, ought to consider embracing the legalization of drugs coupled with harm reduction and education measures for that is the most likely avenue to reduce the deaths committed by the criminals by driving them out of the drug trade, and it would also reduce the deaths and injuries of overdoses and HIV.
Of course regulation of the industry would be necessary -- and with legalization, it would actually be possible. As we have seen with the Peanut Corporation of America, inspection and enforcement would be necessary, and mandatory.
As one holds the newspaper in one's hand and the morning coffee in the other, one ought to have a moment of silence for the loggers who gave their lives in the dangerous forests so that trees could be harvested to produce the millions of tons of newsprint that we consume. Let us give thanks to them and to the newspapers for the critical role that newspapers play in assuring that our government is open and accountable and that our businesses can communicate with their customers. Sphere: Related Content