Against All Prohibitions

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” – Genesis 9:6

“…if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” – Exodus 21:23-24

So on the Wire of Worthless things I came across this gem today:

This is Nancy Grace debating rapper 2Chainz about the issue of Pot Prohibition. I would declare this utterly worthless, except that it did actually provide the perfect opportunity for comment. In this video, Nancy tries to use the example of a guy who video taped himself forcing his toddler to smoke pot as an argument for the prohibition of marijuana.

She says,

My point to you is, you say that there are reasonable people that can smoke pot, use pot, and they won’t involve their children; nobody else is going to get hurt. But what about these people? That’s what makes me keep arguing about this.

So what do I say about that, huh? I’ll phrase her argument a little more directly for her: Pot should be illegal because there are bad, irresponsible people out there like the guy in this video who will use pot in such a way that hurts others.

That’s a pretty strong case for pot prohibition, wouldn’t you say? Well, no. Not at all. All you have to do to defeat that is to point out that the event filmed in this video occurred under pot prohibition. So clearly the pot prohibition that Nancy supports as a measure to prevent things like this from happening didn’t stop this from happening.

This same problem plagues every single prohibition that has ever been proposed or implemented and it touches on a core truth of the Biblical understanding of human nature. And that is that the people who do incredibly bad things like forcing their toddler to smoke pot simply don’t care what the law is or what is right and wrong in the first place. Notice that I don’t dispute whether this was a bad thing for this man to do. I think it’s incredibly bad. But the Bible teaches that sin comes from the heart and that sinners suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. They are hard toward God’s Law and man’s Law. They are hard toward the needs and concerns of their neighbor. They seek only to fulfill their own desires. So this guy was going to do this no matter what the law was. In fact, the only change I could imagine the law having on him is that his motivation might have been to stick it to the man, in which case he actually might not have forced the pot on his toddler had the law not been in place! Imagine that!

People like him are not going to stop and say, “Pot’s illegal? Oh, well then, I guess I’m not going to smoke it, and I certainly won’t give it to my toddler to smoke.” No, they do it anyway. And it’s not out of ignorance. It’s out of their desire for to do the prohibited behavior and their belief that either they won’t get caught, or that it would be worth getting caught (usually the former). Ultimately they don’t care about the consequences to themselves or to others. All they want is the pleasure they are seeking. This basic fundamental fact is true every time somebody sins in any manner. So prohibition of any kind is doomed to failure. It simply can’t work to prevent bad things like this from happening.

So what do we say about the fact that people are being harmed by this? It’s not just a victimless crime when a two year old is forced to toke on this hash pipe, right? Of course it’s not. That toddler has been victimized. But does pot need to be illegal? No, and in fact making it illegal will do nothing to prevent this kind of harm.

The only real effects of any prohibition are that they send hordes of armed thugs out to enforce their restrictions, they empower the cartels and gangs that provide the bootlegged goods, and the one that I really want highlight here, which is that while they utterly fail to keep the prohibited thing out of the hands of these dangerous, irresponsible, bad guys, they do succeed completely in keeping it out of the hands of responsible people who would use the good or service with proper restraint in such a way to not do harm to others.

So not only does this create hardship for “good people” while having absolutely no affect on “bad people”, it also skews any statistical data there might be on what pot smokers are like. You have to remember this when prohibitionists quote stats. If they say, “X% of pot smokers are also involved in this, that, or the other criminal or irresponsible activity,” you have to filter that through the lens of the fact that the only people who smoke pot right now are the kinds of irresponsible criminals who engage in illegal and irresponsible behavior. There is simply no reason to believe that if everyone were allowed to smoke pot that crime would sky rocket. On the contrary, it’s reasonable to believe that if responsible people started smoking pot, they would smoke it responsibly.

What strikes me about this is what compelled me to comment about this in the first place. I think I’ve made the argument pretty clearly, and if you agree with me on ending pot prohibition, you’re probably nodding along, while if you disagree with me, you’re probably scrambling around trying to pull together some rebuttal. Before you do, I just want to take a moment to highlight a bit of the standard conservative logical inconsistency. This issue is proof positive that conservatives, just as much as liberals, see the world through the lens of their biases and shift their tactics based on what promotes their desired end, not on what is objectively true or right.

What I mean by this is that this argument I’ve just made that a conservative would frantically try to rebut is the exact same argument that that same conservative would make if this debate were about guns instead of about pot. Republicans make this same argument whenever someone suggests banning guns.

The reasoning for the gun control argument goes like this: bad people misuse guns and cause harm, so we have to ban guns. It’s the same argument for pot: bad people misuse pot and cause harm, so we have to ban pot. Exactly identical. Of course in both cases, they make the flawed assumption that the gun or the pot is what makes the person bad and therefore all people who smoke pot are automatically prone to this misuse and that all people who have guns are automatically prone to gun misuse.

Conservatives understand this to be utter nonsense – in the case of guns at least. They often parrot the line “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws have guns.” That’s become a bit of a cliche, but there is some truth to it. If you take guns away from people, the only ones who will really be affected will be the responsible, law abiding gun owners. These are the people who would be using their guns responsibly. The irresponsible misusers of guns simply aren’t going to turn them in! So the gun control program will fail to take the guns out of the hands of the bad guys who would do the violence the program seeks to prevent while depriving the good guys of their property rights and leaving them defenseless against the bad guys who now outgun them.

Just as the argument for prohibition is the same, so too is the rebuttal identical. Yeah, okay, the stakes are a bit lower with pot. It’s not like someone’s going to be able to shoot me with a joint now whereas if I had my own joint I could shoot back. But the impact on the principle of individual liberty is the same. You are depriving “good people” of their property rights and their right to choose for themselves what to do with their own bodies and how to spend their own time while utterly failing to effect any change in the bad guys you’re trying to stop. This is a gross miscarriage of justice and the inevitable outcome when you consider everyone guilty by default.

Now I’ve appealed to individual liberty, so this is the point where the prohibitionist might want to chime in with some argument about how the individual’s liberty might sometimes need to be restrained for the sake of another individual’s liberty. I could go into that can of worms to discuss the ethics of causing actual harm and restriction to one man’s liberty in order to prevent possible harm to a theoretical victim that isn’t guaranteed to happen, but I won’t because it’s totally beside the point. If the program that is proposed actually accomplished its stated goals, then we would need to have that conversation. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t successfully prevent any harm from coming to anybody because the people who do the harm aren’t thinking about right and wrong or the law, they’re just doing what they want, so they do it even when it’s illegal. The prohibition, no matter how draconian its enforcement, does exactly nothing to affect the bad guy’s behavior, and so the victim, when there is one, is still harmed.

This same understanding of human nature and economic theory helps us understand every crime statistic out there.

Laws against speeding don’t really stop the crazy 120 mph drivers. People who behave responsibly drive at a safe speed not because of the speed limit or the traffic cop, but because they don’t want to hurt themselves, their property, or the person or property of others. People who do not behave responsibly will not drive at a safe speed no matter what is posted on the side of the road nor how many tickets they receive. This is why there are still traffic accidents despite heavy enforcement.

Laws against drinking and driving don’t really stop people from getting behind the wheel while plastered. Drunk people aren’t exactly in a frame of mind to make a decision as to whether they can drive when they set out. Responsible people either make arrangements before hand, or use self control not to get too drunk and don’t ever cause accidents by drinking and driving. Irresponsible people might drive drunk because they aren’t thinking or behaving responsibly. This is why there are still fatal car accidents that involve alcohol.

This same dynamic explains why there is crime of any kind, including why people still commit theft, rape and murder despite laws against them, and including why a man would videotape himself smoking pot and forcing his toddler to smoke it. The law has no effect whatsoever on them. All we can do by prohibiting something is to be a terror to good conduct!

That’s why the aim of law enforcement should not be to prevent people from doing bad things (whatever those bad things are – even murder). The aim of law enforcement should be to require that the person who’s behavior causes harm to another make restitution to the person he has harmed. You don’t actually need a complex legal code for this. If you hurt somebody, whether on purpose or through at-fault negligence, you owe it to that person to make them whole. No amount of prohibition of any kind is necessary. And no amount of required safety restriction is necessary. If you cause harm to another’s person or property, restitution must be made. That’s it. That’s the entirety of God’s civil law in summary form.

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