The Right to Inhale

by | May 23, 2001

On May 14th, the US Supreme Court reached a verdict on the case of U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Cooperative. By unanimous decision the Court ruled that manufacturers and distributors of marijuana cannot claim the medical needs of their customers as defense against federal prosecution for violating the Controlled Substances Act. Even though a small group […]

On May 14th, the US Supreme Court reached a verdict on the case of U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Cooperative. By unanimous decision the Court ruled that manufacturers and distributors of marijuana cannot claim the medical needs of their customers as defense against federal prosecution for violating the Controlled Substances Act.

Even though a small group of sick people will be deprived of a particular choice of treatment for their illness, they were not the only victims of the Court’s decision; the victims are all who value freedom and the principle of individual rights, who think they have a right to their lives and to decide how to live them.

The fundamental issue involved is personal freedom from government coercion. As long as you don’t violate the rights of others, as a free individual you should have the right to do with your life–and your body–whatever you think is best, without government interference. This means, for example, that you should have the right to get drunk–as long as you pay for your beer; and the right to get drowsy–as long as you don’t drive out of control; and also the right to get stoned–as long as you don’t stone somebody else.

Many people who believe in personal freedom are nevertheless against decriminalizing drug use because they believe it would increase crime. To support their belief they point to a strong correlation between drug use and violent behavior.

While it is undeniable that such correlation exists, it does not by itself demonstrate that drug use causes crime. In fact, a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey of prisons found that the opposite was true for half the inmates, who started their criminal careers before they had ever used a major drug. Moreover, if it were true that drug use caused crime, how would one account for the twelve million drug users who commit no crimes?

A much more likely explanation for the correlation observed is that criminals often act self-destructively. It should be no surprise that they abuse drugs and alcohol. It should also be no surprise that a great number of parents capable of neglect and violence against their children are also drug users. If they have no concern for themselves, is it any wonder that they have no concern for their children?

The fact we must face up to is that no causal connection between drug taking and violent behavior was ever identified. Certainly no such connection exists for marijuana. The theory that drugs cause crime basically misses the point that violence is an act of choice. Criminals use force against others because they think it is a valid and desirable means of gaining values. Drugs do not cause crime–criminals cause crime.

It makes no sense for government to punish all drug users because some of them are criminals. Government’s job should be to protect rights, not to trample on them.

Your right to your life is your most fundamental right. It means that your life and your body should be yours to command. No one, much less government, should have a say in your personal choices. Government should have no say in what drugs you may take for the same reason it should have no say in what food you may eat, or what books you may read: it is your life–it should be your choice, right or wrong. Your right to liberty also includes your right to make bad judgments and even to harm yourself by acting on them. Freedom demands personal responsibility. The fact that people may harm themselves by taking drugs is no justification for government to step in and outlaw their use–or their production and trade. If it were, then government would be justified in outlawing tobacco, junk food and alcohol as well. Every product or substance can be abused or misused. People do stupid things and harm themselves all the time; as long as they harm no one else, government should keep its distance. Government should always protect us from each other, like a policeman, but never protect us from ourselves, like a nanny.

The decriminalization of drugs would be a huge step in recognizing and protecting the individual rights and individual freedom of all in America. But only when Americans choose to re-assume personal responsibility for their lives instead of delegating this responsibility to government will we have a chance to achieve the full political freedom the Founding Fathers intended us to have.

David Holcberg, a former civil engineer and businessman, is now a writer living in Southern California. He is a former writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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