Jared Miller, 4/20/18
“Sin, regardless of how someone may define it, it is not a crime. Creating a victim, regardless if it is a sin, is a crime”. – Larry Sharpe
For many, today is an excuse to smoke weed and pretend to be edgy. For others, it is an act of civil disobedience intended to highlight the absurdity of cannabis prohibition. Others like me, who don’t personally smoke, still share a sense of excitement about eventually winning back some measure of self determination in this area. But we still have a long way to go before we can say we’ve overcome the mentality that enables prohibition in the first place.
I recently made a snarky comment on a post from a police department criticizing the bust of a huge marijuana grow operation in Cleveland, Ohio. I was poking fun at the idea that these officers were keeping our children safe.
Someone I respect very deeply took issue with it, taking the all too common stance that one should fight the law and leave the police alone. “They are just good men doing their jobs. They don’t get to decide which laws to enforce.” I understand where he’s coming from, because I used to share that sentiment. On the surface it seems like the only respectable position. But it is wrong.
First, they do decide which laws to enforce. Police departments decide how to spend their resources. They decide what leads to follow and where officers patrol. Officers decide in the field, for example at a traffic stop, whether to let it slide or find every possible violation. They choose every day and in every situation which laws are important and which laws are not — which laws are worth enforcing and which laws are garbage.
Either they can “just do their job” as stalwart defenders of the law no matter what, or they can admit that they are intentional about which cases are worth pursuing. They shouldn’t get to hide behind their job to justify their actions in one situation, and opt to let someone off the hook in another. They always choose. And that can be a good thing. But when it comes to drug law, they generally choose poorly.
Often, the law was drafted with a specific moral goal in mind. So sometimes the officer is forced to make his choice either based on his moral code, or contradictory to it. In the latter case, he can compartmentalize his guilt by “just following orders.” At that moment, justice is no longer the goal, and the officer shows that he can be made capable, as we all can, of almost any action the ruling body sees fit to carry out. The inescapable conclusion is that morality is not just a poor basis for the formation of law. As a legal standard, it lays the foundation for all manner of injustice. When morality is the goal, anything can be justified.
What else is there? That’s a longer answer… but I’ll try to keep it short. Law exists to reduce or eliminate the ability of one person or group to do direct, intentional harm to another person or group. That’s all.
A law that causes more harm than it prevents stands in direct opposition to its proper role, and should be fought. If the person enforcing it is the one who causes the harm, then law enforcement should also be held accountable.
If an officer’s actions cause direct harm because he’s “just following orders,” he’s not more virtuous than a mafia thug that whacks a guy because it’s “just business.” In that case he just works for a more socially acceptable gang.
So what harm can an officer do in the course of “just doing his job?” The immediate effect is the most obvious. Individuals who have harmed literally no one by cultivating what should be an agricultural product are now felons. For the rest of their lives, they can’t vote, can’t own a gun, can’t find the meaningful employment that might help them live a life outside of “crime,” and will likely be imprisoned at the cost of the taxpayer for something that has not harmed anyone.
You might say the growers knew the risks when they started, and fair enough. But every one of those risks has nothing to do with the product itself, or the manufacture, sale, and use of the product. Every ounce of harm done by growing marijuana is done by enforcing a bad law.
And what about the extended effects? Instead of having legitimate, legal businesses, it has to be done on the black market. The number one cash crop of every drug cartel and street gang is marijuana. If you are concerned with fighting organized crime, the very first step is to cut off their income. In this case, that means fighting this terrible, destructive law.
That is to say nothing of the people actually using marijuana who are now criminals also. Before you say, “it’s not the same thing,“ prohibition requires that the user be punished at the same time as the producer. It’s all just different pieces of the same pie.
This is not meant to be anti-cop. I’m certain these cops aren’t bad men. They don’t have to be. History is littered with good men doing terrible things to others because “it’s the law.“ That is the real crime. Remaining complicit in that is what allows it to continue. It is absolutely right to say that the problem begins with the law forcing the cop into a false dichotomy between causing harm and potentially losing his livelihood.
Which is why sometimes both fighting a bad law and drawing attention to its enforcement are necessary. If you don’t believe that, I’ll assume you never go above 55 on the highway, or that you’d never oppose a cop enforcing any law, no matter how tyrannical. Where would you draw the line? If we have determined that a law is wrong, is the enforcement thereof not also wrong? With so many states taking a stand against federal marijuana law, and a majority of US citizens believing the law to be unjust, there has never been a better time for police officers and local departments to choose to devote their resources elsewhere.
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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.