Mill & Marijuana
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the United States. Its prohibition began with the Marijuana Tax of 1937 and its use was further constrained by Regulations No. 1, and a bill prepared by the Bureau of Narcotics that more than 40 states have passed. Now, any type of use, possession or transfer of the cannabis plant is considered a federal crime. (Solomon) Despite the harsh penalties for use of this drug, it still is very popular, especially among teens and young adults in our country. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in 2002 that over 40% of American citizens 12 years of age or older had tried marijuana at least once (“The Science of Drug Abuse & Addiction”). There has been much debate to legalize this drug and our country has yet to make a final decision. However, if J.S. Mill could voice his opinion about this situation, he would vouch for the legalization of marijuana on the basis that because its use does not infringe on the rights and interests of the greater society and because we have information readily available about this drug, the final decision about its use should be left to the individual and not the law.
English philosopher J.S. Mill was a staunch advocate of individualism because he believed that it cultivated enlightenment and ingenuity within the greater society (p.624, 625). He stated that “men should be free to act upon their own opinions” and, therefore, if a matter did not concern others then individuality should assert itself (p.620). In addition, Mill claimed society only has jurisdiction over an individual’s conduct if it is a danger to the interests of others (p.630). Studies have shown that the main repercussions of marijuana use only affect the individual.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports on the effects of marijuana. The main active chemical that affects the body when marijuana is smoked and/or ingested is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC. When marijuana is smoked, the THC passes very quickly through the lungs into the bloodstream where it is then carried to the brain and other organs. Marijuana intoxication distorts one’s coordination, perception, memory, and problem solving skills. (“The Science of Drug Abuse & Addiction”)
Studies have indicated that marijuana also affects one’s mental health, heart, lungs, and lifestyle. Chronic marijuana use has been associated with anxiety and depression, and in more severe cases with thoughts of suicide and schizophrenia. Users have a 4.8-fold increase of risk of heart attack within the first hour after smoking. Marijuana contains carcinogens that can irritate the lungs and smoking can lead to some respiratory problems, chest illness, and cough and phlegm. However, there is not sufficient evidence to claim that it induces cancer. Lastly, marijuana hampers one’s ability to pursue life achievement. Users have been more likely to be tardy, absent, and prone to accidents and job turnovers. (“The Science of Drug Abuse & Addiction”) Given all of these side effects that mainly affect the individual, Mill would argue that the individual should be free both legally and socially to engage in this action as long as they deal with the consequences (p.630). Some side effects in extreme situations would threaten the interests of others but I will address this matter later. These side effects are obviously not beneficial to anyone but Mill would still support its use because even though it does nothing to promote one’s life, it coincides with Mill’s concept of freedom and individuality.
It is natural to have some concern about others and how these side effects could potentially harm them. Even though the consequences primarily involve the individual, Mill notes that we do not live in a world where we are apathetic of the conduct and well-being of others but he still concedes that no one person or persons has the right to keep one from doing what he chooses if it is in his own interest (p.630). He does, however, offer a better way to persuade people into abiding by what is believed to be good without using “whips and scourges” in the literal and figural sense. He claims that education convicts, persuades, and compels one to do what is right (p.630). We have plenty of information on marijuana use and its side effects including books, the internet, drug awareness programs in schools, etc. According to Mill, we should therefore be able to make our own decisions given our education about this drug.
Although Mill would argue for the legalization of marijuana because it does not infringe on the rights of others and that we have an immense amount of information to make a well-informed decision, he would still set some provisions. For instance, Mill would not vouch for this drug to be available to children. He does not deny that in one’s youth, they should be taught the benefits and consequences of decisions made during the human experience (p.620). On the other hand, he did argue that once one reaches maturity, they should be able to interpret the human experience in their own way. They can make decisions according to their own circumstances (p.621). Therefore, if marijuana were to be legalized, Mill would advocate for a smoking age to be set in order. He would also support other regulations such as outlawing smoking while driving, working, operating machinery, or in other public settings to ensure that the interests of others are not compromised. While Mill would advocate marijuana use in your private life, he would realize that its use in public situations would be a nuisance to others and threaten their interests. Finally, Mill argues that the error of allowing others to constrain an individual into the behavior that they believe is right is worse than the errors committed by an individual partaking in wrong actions despite advice and warning against these beliefs (p.631). The legalization of marijuana, in this case, would provide us with freedom from this wrong.
Solomon, David . “The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.” Schaffer Library of Drug Policy N.p., 2000. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/taxact/mjtaxact.htm>.
The Science of Drug Abuse & Addiction National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22 July 2008. Web. 10 Dec.2009. <http://www.drugabuse.gov/ResearchReports/Marijuana/Marijuana2.html#scope>.
Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought : Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. , 2008. Print.
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