Marijuana Legalization: We Should Expand Rights, Not Reduce Them

More than $1 trillion to fight the failed War on Drugs over time. From January to May 2013 alone, 34 Mexicans have been killed every day by drug cartels. There was $25.6 billion requested by the federal government for the White House’s 2013 National Drug Control Strategy.

There are many arguments for why marijuana should be legalized, and the above are just a few of them. But there is one that has remained constant over time: citizens’ rights.

First, an individual has the right to their own body and what they put into their body. “Every man has a property in his own person,” stated John Locke, a 17th century British philosopher who inspired Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Locke’s concept of property as owning your own person is highly influential today. Indeed, he called it a “natural right” which means one that cannot be taken away, or as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, unalienable.

Today, this right is being violated. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits consumption of numerous substances, is violating Americans’ right to choose what to put in their bodies (their property). The Controlled Substances Act “is probably the most far-reaching federal statute in American history, since it asserts federal jurisdiction over every drug offense in the United States, no matter how small or local in scope,” according to a Handbook for Policymakers from the Cato Institute, a pro-drug-legalization think tank.

If any person is found in possession of marijuana, they could serve one year in prison and pay a maximum fine of $1,000, if it is their first offense. If they are caught again, there is a mandatory 15-day sentence, with the possibility of two years in prison and a $2,500 fine. These are very harsh consequences for exercising one’s right to one’s own body and just consuming some dried plants.

As the DEA enforces the Controlled Substances Act, it is trampling on an individual’s right to his or her body. This mammoth federal statute infringes on citizens’ rights in all 50 states, and has done so since 1970.

However, could there be a light at the end of the tunnel? The federal legalization of recreational marijuana would put an end to the DEA’s violations of the rights of thousands of harmless marijuana users. Federal legalization would also send the message to the states where marijuana is legal that their citizens can enjoy marijuana without fearing federal encroachment on their rights and leisure activities.

In February, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced H.R. 499 to the House of Representatives, the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013” bill. There are currently 16 representatives that have co-sponsored the bill, 15 Democrats and one Republican. If you do not see your representative on the list and would like to urge them to co-sponsor it, Drug Policy Alliance has created an easy form to send, voicing your support for federal legalization.

We all know the statistics: more than half of the country supports marijuana legalization, recreational marijuana is now legal in Washington and Colorado, and the support for legalization is growing.

The right thing for our federal government to do will be to honor an individual’s rights, listen to its constituents, take marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act, and leave each state to further delineate its marijuana policy. Only legalization will curb the DEA from violating marijuana users’ rights to consume their dried plant matter in peace.