I syndicated my previous post on marijuana prohibition to a friend’s blog.  It generated a little bit of comment – from the blog’s founders, disavowing my position.

I posted a comment in response, arguing that a move to a permissive marijuana regime was not a step into the abyss.  I’ve decided to repost it here, for the edification of all:

It is of course true that we need to have laws that punish those who use their freedom in ways that actually harm other people. But it is a far leap from the simple observation that “people may use their freedom in harmful ways” to an “I Robot” like conclusion that “therefore we need to take away freedom”. The obvious flaw in this type of reasoning is that it considers the harm of allowing freedom, but not the harm embodied in the loss of freedom itself.

So. How do we make sure that people are held accountable? We already do, of course. Query why current laws are insufficient. If someone commits manslaughter under the influence of marijuana, they are liable to the charge of manslaughter. If they destroy property, they are liable for the destroyed property. Do drugs make law violations more likely? I’m not sure, but if they did, they would also make the pre-existing penalties more likely. The penalties of law are self-scaling to the likeliness of their violation.

What about those harmed by marijuana usage? One straightforward way to redistribute wealth from those who impose risk through marijuana use to those who do not is to put a tax on marijuana. Lower taxes evenly across the rest of the population in proportion to the gain from marijuana taxes, and you have forced marijuana users to “pay a toll” to the abstinent population for the risk they impose on them. Alcohol taxes and gas taxes serve much the same purposes.

Nor do I particularly desire only a partial legalization. The fact that there may be no instantaneous diagnosis of marijuana intoxication is not particularly terrible. After all, alcohol legalization was never contingent on the invention of portable breathalyzers. Nor do breathalyzers enforce drunk-driving laws by themselves: police have to see someone driving dangerously or acting violently in order to respond to drunken behavior. Pot-driven risks would be policed in the same ways.

The greatest danger is that we legalize marijuana consumption in homes without generally legalizing marijuana sales. We do not want a “worst of all worlds” scenario with high consumption, a vital, still-violent black market, and an invasive police force that continues to substantially harass and restrict people’s freedoms. We should prefer a *very permissive* marijuana legalization regime (such as those surrounding alcohol and tobacco, to the extent that they can be called “permissive”) to the “slightly permissive” regime that is commonly advocated – where only consumption, but not production or sale, is legalized.