Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Getting Two Birds Stoned At Once

The typical approach to decriminalization and/or legalization of marijuana is through legislation. That means either modifying existing laws or introducing new laws. By modifying a law I mean something like changing marijuana’s classification under the Controlled Substances Act, from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule II or III substance. Introducing a new law is exactly what it sounds like, a new bill that would change the legal status of marijuana. Two such bills were recently introduced. One, introduced by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), would require federal authorities to respect state’s laws on medical marijuana. The other, introduced by Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), would eliminate all federal penalties for personal use and possession. It’s doubtful either of these bills will pass, but even if they do I don’t believe that this is the best approach and here’s why.

Laws change all the time. One day something is legal and the next day it’s not. Or vice versa. Just look at all the legislation passed during the 20th century relating to recreational drugs. All were at one time legal and at other times illegal. The status of recreational drugs is something that is totally dependent on the whims of the current administration.

What I’m suggesting is a more permanent and general solution: a Constitutional amendment. But I’m not talking about something like the 18th amendment (alcohol prohibition) in reverse; something that would specifically decriminalize marijuana. I’m talking about something much more general and more fundamental: an amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy; a right that is conspicuously missing from our Bill of Rights. Granted, the Bill of Rights does refer to certain aspects of privacy, but very indirectly (Amendments 1, 4 and 9).

To me, a constitutional amendment that specifically protects our privacy seems like an obvious solution. But no where have I seen such an approach mentioned with respect to current decriminalization efforts. And it’s certainly not my original idea, since Alaska’s Constitution includes such a right in its Declaration of Rights. It simply states:

The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed.
(Alaska State Constitution, Article 1, Section 22)

When this section was later implemented by the legislature, additional clarification and safeguards were added, but its meaning remains the same: The government cannot interfere with what people do in private. Simple and to the point. Such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution would not only affect the growing and/or consumption of medicinal herbs of any kind, but a number of other human behaviors that have at one time or another been the subject of legislation as well. Hence the title of this essay. For example, all laws relating to sexual behavior would also become void. People (and by that I mean consenting adults) would be free to do what they want in their own homes without fear of prosecution (or should I say persecution). It sounds to me a lot like that unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness that we were told we have.

So this idea seems right and just, and makes a lot of sense to me. And I think that’s why it will never happen. Regardless of what rights were promised to us by the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, there will always be people in power who will want to tell others how to live their lives. If there weren’t, then we’d have peace on Earth and everyone would be living together in harmony. And we all know that ain’t never going to happen.

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