Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Oldest Profession

It occurred to me one day that smoking marijuana is in many ways a lot like prostitution. Before I go on, I want to put those jokes that immediately spring to mind behind us. Here’s one to get you started: They both involve putting something in your mouth and sucking on it. OK? Satisfied? Got it out of your system? Now we can move on.

First of all, people have smoked marijuana and engaged in prostitution, in one way or another, as long as there have been people. If you want to get all scientific about it, agriculture is probably the oldest profession, but I’d guess prostitution comes in a close second. And we know that people have been using marijuana both recreationally and medically at least since the beginning of recorded history. The oldest known medical manuscript mentions the medicinal properties of cannabis, and a 2700-year-old tomb was recently uncovered in China that contained, among other things, almost two pounds of marijuana that had clearly been cultivated for its psychoactive properties.

Both have been legal throughout much of human history, but recently have been outlawed. Why? No particular reason, other than on moral grounds. Some people believe you shouldn’t do these things, and that making them illegal is the most effective way to make people stop doing them. Apparently, in a civilized society, we all need to follow the same moral code, even in private.

They are both, in most cases, victimless “crimes.” Unlike most crimes that involve one person doing harm to another, no one is really harmed by engaging in these activities. Granted, that’s not always the case. But I think it’s safe to say that reasonable, intelligent adults can commit these acts without doing anyone, other than possibly themselves, any harm. Most of the problems associated with these activities are the result of them being against the law, rather than the activities themselves.

And in both cases, if the activity were legal and regulated, much of the danger would be eliminated. As we know, in the case of prostitution, a legal industry is much safer for all involved. Consumers do not have to deal with criminals. The spread of disease is drastically reduced. And people do not have to worry about a criminal record for doing something that is really nobody’s business but theirs. Similar things could be said about legalized and regulated marijuana (except for the part about spreading disease).

Making these activities illegal also brings the government into the privacy of one’s home, which is supposed to be protected by our Constitution. Somewhere along the line, our government got the idea that it was within their power to tell consenting adults what they can and cannot do in private. I guess I missed the part in the Constitution that gives the government the power to tell its citizens what kind of sex they are allowed to have. Or what kind of home remedies they can use. When you get right down to it, people really should be able to do whatever they want in private, as long as all parties involved are agreeable and the activity doesn’t harm or otherwise affect other people.

It’s also the case that arresting and imprisoning people for these activities has no demonstrable effect on the number of people engaging in them. Will outlawing prostitution make it go away? Will prohibition make people stop smoking marijuana? It hasn’t so far. Of course, who knows? Maybe in another 10,000 years the laws will finally start to have an effect, and we just need to be patient. But I tend to doubt it.

Which brings me to my last point. Paying for sex and ingesting psychoactive compounds is what people do. They always have done it, and always will. It’s human nature. As I’ve said before, legislation that goes against human nature will always fail. Threatening people with punishment will not make them stop being people. It’s like passing a law that forbids dogs from relieving themselves on fire hydrants. Ain’t gonna happen. So what’s the point? Don’t we have enough criminals already? Why do we need to make up laws that make even more people into criminals. Why can’t the government stay out of people’s personal lives? More importantly, why does the government insist on legislating morality? Why does it bother some people so much when others do something they don’t approve of? Why can’t we just live and let live? Anybody? Bueller? I’m waiting for some answers. I haven’t got all day.

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