Legalization Now

The Kentucky legislature debated legalizing medical marijuana during this year’s legislative session. February 12, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo announced that his medical marijuana bill was not going to pass this year. Speaker Stumbo should be commended for trying to move our Commonwealth forward but his bill was a mere half measure. Kentucky should legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes and we should do it immediately.

As a conservative, I believe government’s role in our lives should be limited. A society must implement laws necessary to protect its citizens from each other. However, government often oversteps its role when it seeks to regulate how its citizens should live when the consequences of a citizen’s decision likely only effects the citizen himself. As free people, we must have the right to choose for ourselves how we want to live our lives.

Conservatives were utterly aghast that Michelle Obama, by government fiat, arbitrarily changed the school lunch menus because she has determined they were not healthy enough. Forget the thoughts and opinions of the local school systems, the parents or the students because we have an omniscient First Lady. Or, need I remind my fellow conservatives of our complete outrage when nanny state liberal Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned “over-sized” sodas from being sold in New York City. Mayor Nanny State determined in his superior wisdom that he must protect us, the uneducated masses, from ourselves. Nanny state liberals have even gone so far as to threaten to tax “junk food” and “fast food” because the nanny state liberals believe they know better than the rest of us what we should eat. I find their perceived superiority and presumptiveness arrogant and infuriating.

Unfortunately, conservatives lose the consistency and persuasiveness of our limited government positions when we chose to elevate our value judgments to law. Marijuana, unlike many other illegal drugs, does not lead users to commit other crimes to fuel their addiction. Marijuana users are not burglarizing homes and breaking into cars like heroin users or methamphetamine addicts because they must secure the requisite funds for their next high. The effects of marijuana do not cause aggression or lead to violence. In sum, marijuana use, absent illegally operating a motor vehicle while impaired, does not negatively affect other citizens, their safety or their quality of life. If the rest of us are not injured by our fellow citizen’s choice to use marijuana why should our value judgments restrict their ability to choose for themselves?

I understand and agree that society is better off if no one uses a mind altering substance. I understand and completely agree that I would not want children to use marijuana. In my personal opinion, recreational marijuana use is a bad idea, and I believe that chronic marijuana use stifles ambition. Those are my value judgments but I do not believe my value judgments should be imposed on my fellow citizens.

And, marijuana legalization movements are going to continue to become more widespread and mainstream. Kentucky has a golden opportunity to be on the forefront of these winds of change. Our tobacco farmers have suffered. Many of our rural communities are impoverished. Legalization of marijuana would be an immediate and significant economic boom to our state. Our farmers would have a legal cash crop. Our rural communities would see revitalization. Our state treasury would see an influx of tax revenue from the sale of marijuana and from the income taxes paid by people legitimately working in the industry. We would save tax dollars associated with the prosecution and incarceration of marijuana growers and traffickers. We would curb the societal ills associated with illegal marijuana trafficking.

Marijuana use is already widespread in our state. The social stigma once associated with marijuana use is greatly diminished. Marijuana possession penalties were recently downgraded by the Kentucky legislature. Simply put, marijuana legalization is coming. As conservatives who value individual liberty and preach the limited reach of government, we must join the chorus for legalization rather than stand in the way because marijuana use does not fit with our personal value judgments.

Anyone who believes marijuana is unhealthy has every right not to use it. Anyone who believes marijuana affects brain function can choose not to smoke it. Anyone who believes marijuana use is against the dictates of their conscience or their religion should not use it. As for me, I choose not to use it but I know that I have no right to tell the rest of you how you should live your life when your choice has no impact on the quality of my life.

Simply put, for you nanny state people who believe the government should legislate morality and value judgments, please govern your own lives and leave the rest of us alone. Remember, tomorrow it may be another group of nanny staters legislating against something you like. You have no moral authority when you behave just like them.

Brian Butler is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former United States Navy J.A.G., Assistant Commonwealth and Assistant United States Attorney. Currently, he is an attorney in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky.