Legalizing Marijuana: Does Society Really Need Another Way to Get High?

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At some point in the not-too-distant future, America will confront the question of whether or not to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana. A recent poll shows that support for legalization has reached its highest level since the question was first asked thirty years ago, with 34 percent supporting a liberalization of policy. Among political elites there is a growing consensus that the harsh penalties imposed on those who grow, use, and sell marijuana are disproportionate to its harmful effects. Even among conservatives, opinion seems to be shifting. Whether the change should be welcomed is another matter. In a recent essay for National Review, Richard Lowry raises the question of whether marijuana is truly harmful-and he…show more content…
Much more potent is Lowry's argument against the conventional wisdom that pot is a "gateway drug" to such "harder" substances as LSD, cocaine, metham­ phetamine, and heroin. Reversing accepted assump­ tions, Lowry denies both that kids who use marijuana go on to experiment with stronger drugs and that those who do so are led to this behavior by the marijuana itself. As he points out, just "because a cocaine addict used marijuana first doesn't mean he is on cocaine because he smoked marijuana." To argue in this way is, he claims, to confuse "temporality with causality." It is more likely that children who experiment with drugs of all kinds do so because of a preexisting behavioral problem. It's thus "the kid, not the substance, who is the problem." Like the NRA's effective campaign to persuade the country that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," Lowry's argument contains much truth. Of course a troubled child is more likely to try drugs than one with a firm sense of right and wrong. But that's far from being the end of the story. Just as a would-be murderer can usually do far more harm with a gun than he could with a less potent weapon, so a child in danger of losing his way can do more damage to himself when drugs are widely available for his use, as they surely would be if they were legalized. And then there is the question

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