CannabisConservatives who oppose marijuana legalization typically hold similar reasons for their opposition: the fear that everyone will be potheads if the stuff is legalised, the ‘slippery-slope’ arguments, the grouping of marijuana with more dangerous drugs, the linking of drugs to crime, the linking of drugs to those who are society’s ‘takers’ on welfare, the ‘marijuana is more risky than we think’ argument, and the refusal to ever even consider that making it illegal to ingest certain substances could be violating the right to own one’s body independently of government.

To address some of this briefly:

(1) It’s asserted that everyone will become potheads if it’s legalised. This is rather patronising actually, since it assumes that the general populace is too stupid to make rational decisions about whether or not to ingest a drug. It’s a mistake to think that legalising something will make it popular to the point of ubiquity. Porn is legal, but not everybody wants it. Cigarettes are legal, but are becoming less and less popular. Weed has been uncriminalised in a few jurisdictions around the world, and none of them have been taken over by potheads. But if pot did become ubiquitous, so what? Nobody objects to the pervasiveness of coffee. At which point we cue the next argument.

(2) The slippery slope assumes that smoking marijuana will lead people to want to try more dangerous drugs. If this is the case with cannabis use, it must be explained why the effect is not present in the case of, say, caffeine consumption (which is the most widely used psychotropic substance on earth) or alcohol use. And if it is present in those cases, why is the slippery slope argument not being employed as justification for criminalising coffee? What people are doing is to mix marijuana’s illegality into their logic on deciding whether it should be illegal. That’s a fallacy. Which brings us to this:

(3) ‘How can you single out cannabis without legalising very dangerous drugs like methamphetamine or heroin?’ Well the question is one of degree. This question assumes cannabis is part of a grouping with more dangerous drugs rather than part of a group with less dangerous ones or ones that are already legal. People tend to do this because of their knowledge that cannabis is illegal; it feels like it inherently should be grouped with other illegal drugs. But this is an arbitrary and irrational grouping, because the illegal status of something is not a valid consideration of whether it should be illegal (that’s circular reasoning). A rational grouping would set cannabis within a scale of all drugs (including caffeine, alcohol, aspirin, nicotine, morphine, opium and much more). One would then have to justify having some chosen for legality and others chosen for criminalisation. Why is it so obvious that we’ve made the right decision? (Those with knowledge of the history of the issue will have a logical advantage here

(4) The linking of marijuana to crime is certainly a potent argument, but it’s ultimately a bad one. Correlation does not equal causation. It’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis that the only reason cannabis use and crime correlate is because one must break the law to possess cannabis in the first place (ie. the only people in the statistics for consideration are those comfortable enough with breaking the law to have been in possession of marijuana in the first place!). In other words, we could ask the question: is the smoking of pot responsible for causing someone to commit a crime, or is it simply the case that a criminal is more likely to smoke pot since it’s another illegal activity? Anyway, it isn’t cannabis but alcohol that is by far the most common substance associated with crime: 24 percent compared with only 3 to 6 percent associated with marijuana. I’d say that leaves this argument in the gutter (unless we’re supposed to be considering alcohol prohibition too).

(5) Marijuana is also connected in these discussions with laziness and welfare. Aside from my own anecdotal evidence that all the pot-smokers I know are hardworking business owners or people who are busy supporting themselves on a daily basis and are using marijuana primarily socially, this is best answered in the manner of point (1); it is often alleged that everyone will become unproductive pot-smoking leeches if it is made legal. There’s no evidence for that whatsoever..

(6) Never mind the slippery slope or the grouping with dangerous drugs… is cannabis itself a dangerous drug? Uh, no. Or at least not moreso than tobacco (who’s users aren’t typically being threatened with prohibition of that substance) or habitual consumption of fatty food (ditto) or car driving or any number of other things. It’s non-toxic, chemically non-addictive and almost impossible to overdose on. But, frankly, I don’t think the conservatives making these arguments are really concerned about the health of pot-smokers. I’m a skeptic about that. And anyway, they haven’t been able to make a case that things which are harmful to your health should be outlawed (and they’d be hypocrites to apply that solely to marijuana), so I think it’s a little disingenuous to use it as an argument.

I’ve left one final argument until the end; the most important of all, and the trump card which – literally – ends the discussion without reference to any of the above. All of the above arguments are arguments of pragmatism; now, observe an argument from principle. And since conservatives are reluctant to apply the principles of small government to practices they don’t like or find morally objectionable, I’m applying the principle for them.

Making it illegal to ingest certain substances is violating the ownership that individuals have over themselves, their minds and their bodies. Conservatives have no excuses for not accepting this point; they already want the government to stay out of their finances and their businesses and so much else: to expect individuals to consult the government before breathing in the smoke of a burning plant is no less outlandish and no less a violation of rights.

This point is best made by reference to the gun debate, on which conservatives in America strangely tend to take the other side. Conservatives want the freedom to own their guns; liberals want to deny them that freedom for various reasons. Liberals want the freedom to decide for themselves which substances they put in their own bodies; conservatives want to deny them that freedom despite wanting the freedom to keep their guns. This point was made a few years ago very effectively in an article by Anthony Gregory which was published in Freedom Daily, in which he says:

“Arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for the weapons they choose to own OR the drugs they choose to consume are immoral violations of the rights of self-ownership, and the corollary rights to control one’s own body and property,” [my emphasis].

Not only that:

“The right to self-ownership necessarily implies the right to self-defense and the right to peacefully acquire the means of self-defense. Hence, all gun control immorally violates the right to self-defense and self-ownership. The right to self-ownership implies the right to self-medication and also the general right to decide what to put into one’s own body. Either you own yourself or you do not.”

So, conservatives: do we own ourselves or not? You say so when you fight for gun rights, and denying the same ownership when it comes to drugs like marijuana makes you hypocrites. That’s a principled argument. And it’s a trump card.

Even if the very worst of practical outcomes derived from legalising drugs, I would advocate doing it anyway because of my hardcore, steadfast, relentless commitment to the principles upon which America was founded: liberty and equal rights.

And that’s a conservative value.