Raising children is not easy. Traditional – Biblical – values are everywhere under assault, as the culture questions, criticizes or condemns beliefs that were once commonplace. In just one example, the past twenty years has brought us “medicinal medicine,” a catchy phrase that seeks to normalize what was once rightly considered to be a dangerous drug. Demonstrating the power of the “big lie,” it appears that the constant repetition of this phrase is misleading more and more people - Christians included - into believing that marijuana is somehow a “good” that should be allowed.
An increasing number of Christians are starting to wonder, as well, whether we should simply legalize this drug. After all, won’t that minimize gang violence? Liquor and cigarettes are legal, and they are harmful too? As the debate shifts from the main question – is marijuana the kind of substance that society should endorse? – to other questions – shouldn’t sick people have access to it, or isn’t reducing the gang problem a good thing? – the balance tilts away from the traditional view.
As a prosecutor for a quarter of a century, I have come to appreciate the importance of getting the question right. If jurors think they are being asked to weigh in on whether the cops “rushed to judgment,” they may well return a different (and incorrect) verdict than if they are given the actual elements of the crime under consideration. The debate regarding marijuana has evolved in a way in which the wrong question keeps getting out there in the public square, so that opponents of legalization are constantly on the defensive. We didn’t help matters by framing enforcement efforts as a “war on drugs,” because wars are things we want to fight for a period of time and then emerge victorious.
As long as there is a desire to escape sobriety, alcohol and drugs will always be a problem. We cannot eliminate the source of the problem – human weakness – any more than we can end, once and for all, vandalism, gang activity or theft. But the law doesn’t seek to eliminate entirely, once and for all, a problem; that is of course not realistic. The law's purpose is to set the normative values of the society and then enforce the rules, so that people perceive the benefits of “right living” and experience some deterrence when they want to act in ways that are self-destructive or destructive of society. This of course requires that adults – people with mature judgment – make the decisions. The only ultimate solution to the drug problem is to combat demand - to show the mistake involved in using a controlled substance to help cope with the stresses of life - but such involves a changing of one’s heart, not a war. And we appear to be losing in that arena as well. Few times has “the big lie” been utilized as effectively as in the campaign to legalize marijuana. Crafting it as “medicine” was a master stroke. Who can argue with the “goodness” of medicine? This lie is taking increasing hold in our culture, and we see it with teens seeking “medicine” for their anxiety, apparently oblivious to the fact that this mind-altering substance is making matters much worse. Yet, this is the state of things today. Despite the initial lie that legalization was necessary to help people with terminal illnesses who have no appetite, such people were not being prosecuted and there were more than enough palliative drugs available that could be used by a responsible physician. Ask any police officer today and they will tell you about young kids using their “medicinal marijuana card” as a ticket to get high.
So, bringing these reflections back to the question of whether to legalize marijuana, the first question to consider is the one described above: what is the proper role of law and of government as it relates to mind-altering substances? It doesn’t take a social scientist to see the destructive impact on lives that drug use carries. Regular use causes apathy, impairs judgment, interferes with learning and memory, distorts perception and diminishes coordination. The danger posed by drivers under the influence of marijuana is becoming increasingly recognized. High doses can result in hallucinations and panic reactions and for teens, the normal risk of depression and other psychiatric disorders is increased. The substance contains carcinogens, so the risk of cancer is also present. In short, nothing good comes out of a dependence on marijuana for the vast majority of users. Additionally, though it is not the case for all users, marijuana is a gateway drug for some, leading them to increasing dependence on harder drugs. Whatever problems have led the user to seek escape in this fashion will not go away, as he effectively sticks his head in the sand by “tuning out.” The problems persist, and get worse. Jobs are lost, friendships and families broken, children and dependents hurt. Start running from life, as most users do, and you never stop running, as the inherently addictive nature of these substances requires greater and greater use to attain the same result.
What does the adult say to this? He teaches the benefits of sobriety, of a life lived in sober and positive pursuits. No doubt, this is an unpopular message; indeed, to modern ears it will sound bizarre. But the history of this country shows the benefits of what can be accomplished when children are taught character. Read the biographies of any of the great men and women of our history. And the message, however unpopular, has the added advantage of being true. There are positive ways to deal with stress and with problems, most notably those involving exercise and the cultivation of friendships. Interdependence with others and dependence on God are key components. Working for the good of others can also be greatly rewarding. Is it any coincidence that successful twelve step programs make use of these ways of living? The user does not want to hear these things, but it is what he needs in order to get back on a healthy track.
But perhaps healthy living isn't what the user wants. What then does society do? What good comes from eliminating the social stigma and the deterrent effect that comes from the law – the expression of society’s understanding of “the good” – staking out the clear position that this is not the way to live? When did we become so confused as a culture that what we took for a given in the past - dependence on mind altering substances is bad - is not recast into part of a "healthy lifestyle" and expression of my personal choice that doesn't harm anyone?
If we believed that users could still be productive and would not harm themselves and others, perhaps the case for legalizing could be made. But where does that notion come from? Does it take anything more than common sense to realize how much society suffers when an increasing percentage of people want to "medicate" themselves into apathy and nirvana?
In my next post, I'll consider two of the most popular arguments in support of legalization.