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Justin Bieber, Legalized Marijuana, Unjust And Just Laws, And Civil Disobediance

Justin Bieber, Legalized Marijuana, Unjust And Just Laws, And Civil Disobediance

COMMENTARY | In my previous opinion piece, Justin Bieber Smoking Weed: Supporting Legal Marijuana Should Not Sway Opinion, I touched on the belief that supporting the legalization of marijuana necessarily entails that proponents should break the law by consuming marijuana as a form of civil disobedience. I called this idea false without explaining why and assumed readers would get my meaning.

Some angry commentators took this to mean that I support the marijuana laws as currently written and one posted this response:

“Consuming marijuana is not immoral in of itself, but breaking the law certainly is. ”

This statement couldn’t be more wrong. Civil disobedience has been very effective in getting racist laws (like the drug war) overturned in the past.

“Everyone has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” – Martin Luther King.

“The best plan of action would be to petition the government for change instead of just grumbling and breaking the law in protest.”

The federal government shows no sign of allowing for the medical use of marijuana, even though 80% of the population wants to legalize medical marijuana. Numerous bills for marijuana law reform have been introduced into Congress, only to never see a hearing. The feds don’t even want to discuss industrial hemp.

Alcohol prohibition was not repealed by ‘petitioning for change'; it was repealed because millions of Americans disobeyed the law.

Patrick Frye has a grade-school understanding of U.S. history.

Because of the complexity of the topic I felt it best to respond at length. When I write I’m making the distinction between the law in of itself and the effects of the law. At best I feel that current marijuana laws could be called arbitrary. The label of unjust might only apply if the continuing justifications for maintaining the status quo were proven to be untrue or, worse, outright lies as is the case with some of the older justifications for making cannabis illegal in the first place.

I believe that a disagreement over where the line between just and unjust laws lies is no reason for insults. The response seemed to assume that I support the current marijuana laws. If anything, I believe that marijuana should probably be a controlled substance that is regulated like tobacco and alcohol, although I’d prefer it if governments keep their hands off in general. As in, no taxing it either, because Congress has a spending problem as it is and doesn’t need to waste more money. If legal cannabis is to be taxed, all revenues should go to the states and not the Federal government.

Despite my opinion being in favor of the legalized regulation of marijuana, I still find that comparing the civil rights movement to efforts to legalize marijuana to be a false conflation of two distinct issues. This concept seems to serve only as grounds for justifying breaking the law. The missing first part of that Martin Luther King Jr. quote reads, “In any civilized society, it is every citizen’s responsibility to obey just laws.” Consuming marijuana is not a necessity nor is it a right. If evidence is anything to go by, consuming marijuana is primarily an amoral act that is mostly intended for entertainment or recreational purposes. The pros and cons of consuming marijuana can be debated — with some medical studies pointing to health issues with smoking but not necessarily baking — but in any case when it comes to marijuana civil disobedience is not a necessity borne out of basic rights being trample upon by the government.

Perhaps not the perfect comparison, but a specific speed limit is also an amoral, and perhaps arbitrary, law. It could be argued that it is “just” that a majority of representatives agreed to this law, although the resulting law in of itself could be considered amoral. Thus, there is no excuse for breaking the speeding limit laws. Likewise for marijuana.

Medicinal implementations for cannabis are arguably the only instance where matters of just/unjust laws become an issue, since how is it just to deny help for someone truly suffering? Although, that statement does ignore the comparison of the effectiveness of marijuana against other alternatives, and whether or not it is justified to focus on providing medicinal marijuana when better options might be available. Opinions are mixed, but also seem to be based upon smoking versus other methods of consumption. Then there is the debate over Marinol versus natural cannabis, but medical effectiveness debates are really outside the focus of this current article.

The issue of racism is not caused by the law itself but in the enforcement of the law, but that distinction should not quell the cries for ending the injustice. To use the speed limit comparison again, I’ve read that police officers tend to pull over black people more than other demographic groups, but that does not make the speed limit law itself unjust.

The Los Angeles Times explains how racism likely plays a part in enforcement of the law:

“Blacks make up less than 7% of the state population but 22% of people arrested for all marijuana offenses and 33% of all marijuana felony arrests. More African Americans are arrested in California for marijuana felonies than are whites, even though whites are six times more represented in the state population. The overrepresentation of African Americans is not explained by use rates. According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the percentage of African Americans and whites who use marijuana over any 30-day period are similar. However, for the 18-25 age group — which constitutes a substantial proportion of marijuana arrests — African Americans regularly use marijuana at rates lower than whites (16.5% and 18.4%, respectively), indicating that their overrepresentation may be even more profound.”

Finally, prohibition laws were repealed not because of the nature of the laws, or that they were unjust laws, but due to increased lawlessness, which propped up the mob, and due to the huge loss in federal tax revenues combined with the increased cost of enforcing prohibition. Similar reasons should give Congress impetus to legalize marijuana as well. But breaking the law is what is causing problems, not following the law. To summarize, in the case of marijuana consumed for recreational purposes there seems to be ample justification to petition the government for change to the law, but not the moral obligation to disobey an unjust law.

“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?”

— Henry David Thoreau

“If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

— Source Unknown, Although Widely Attributed To Thomas Jefferson

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11 Responses to “Justin Bieber, Legalized Marijuana, Unjust And Just Laws, And Civil Disobediance”

  1. Kevin Hunt

    I had always thought that Jefferson wrote "If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”, but I haven't been able to find a primary citation attributing it directly to Jefferson.

    "This quotation has not been found in Thomas Jefferson's papers. It has been suggested that it is a paraphrase of Jefferson's statement in the Declaration of Independence, "…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…," although such a paraphrase would seem to be taking some radical liberties with the original version. The quotation bears a much closer resemblance to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s comment in his famous letter from Birmingham Jail: "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."


  2. Malcolm Kyle

    Nobody can be expected to obey bad laws, like ones that infringe on logic as well as the fundamental right to decide on what medicine or poison an individual adult may, or may not, ingest. The violence and the deaths ultimately arising from such bad public policy should always rest squarely on the shoulders of those ignorant imbeciles who are responsible for implementing and supporting such foolishness.

    Prohibition causes massive crime and suffering, causes government/police corruption, causes America to have the highest prison population of any country in the history of the planet, causes Americans to lose all their rights and all their true values, causes the waste of trillions in taxpayer dollars, causes wars, causes violence and death in other countries, causes America to be hated by other countries, funds criminals, funds terrorists, causes the people who use drugs to be instant criminals who have to spend 100x the money for an inferior, adulterated, impure, unmeasured and thus unsafe product. Drug prohibition was started as a policy of racism and it perpetuates racism to this very day.

    When we regulate something we do NOT automatically condone it's use; the regulations concerning alcohol and tobacco are there to protect us from the vast increase in criminality that would otherwise exist if these substances were prohibited.

    A regulated and licensed distribution network for all mind altering substances would put responsible adult supervision in between children and premature access to drug distribution outlets (illegal street dealers). Regulated and licensed distribution would reflect and respect society's values, thus preventing children obtaining easy access to these dangerous substances. What we need is legalized regulation. What we have now, due to prohibition, is a non-regulated black market to which everybody has access and where all the profits go to organized crime and terrorists.

  3. Thomas Michael

    "Consuming marijuana is not a necessity nor is it a right."
    How is it not my right to decide what I put in my body? I have just as much a right to drink coffee every day or go through a carton of cigarettes in a week if I wanted to. Marijuana is harmless, and much less debilitating than anything alcohol will do to a person, both in mood change (mentally) and muscle coordination (physically).

    And how can you compare speed limits to prohibition? Not even close man.. moving at 70+ mph in a metal box on a crowded highway is not a fair comparison to somebody sitting on their couch puffing on a pipe that makes them feel good and doesn't make them want to chew someone's face off or commit suicide (See synthetic drugs).

    Clearly there is a need to regulate how fast people are traveling on a medium in which we all share. Government telling me this plant is dangerous for my health when it's a complete lie is not appropriate, borderline insane, and damn sure not what our founding fathers intended. The DEA bureaucracy tells us that cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycontin (and the list goes on) are all more dangerous for us than marijuana. Clearly they are lying to the faces of the American people.

    If the government decided to make caffeine or sugar illegal/controlled substance, could you imagine the uproar at how unreasonable and stupid the law is? How is marijuana any different? We've simply grown accustomed to what this corrupt corporate-sponsored government spoon feeds us. Marijuana is grown and consumed just as naturally as the tomatoes people grow in their backyards.

    For god sakes, people will pop whatever the doctor prescribes them without a second thought, yet Cannabis consumers must live in fear of prosecution for smoking an unprocessed plant product? Tell me again that this isn't enough moral obligation to disregard unjust laws. Oh and I'm glad you mentioned the Marinol debate, too bad you didn't explain anything.. Sure you can consume the active ingredient of Cannabis legally, but only the synthetic pills that come from the factory/laboratory, whose price is definitely marked up so somebody makes a profit off of the people who actually need it.

    It is truly disgusting how much control Big Pharma (and also tobacco/alcohol) has over our politicians, and to see them take this beautiful plant that so many people hobby over and care for everyday and turn it into another ugly synthetic pharmaceutical is just wrong. And our government supports it because the people who profit from marijuana prohibition are the same ones lining their pockets. They know that if it were legalized their sales would fall tremendously.

    The government doesn't care about our petitions or our feelings until enough people are jailed and families grow outraged over these special interest wars. Need I remind you that people have been smoking cannabis for thousands of years? Or how about the Federal government has a number of their own medical marijuana patients that they send 300 some joints to in a tin every month, even though the DEA has marijuana categorized as a schedule I drug with no medicinal value. They just don't care, until we make them care.

  4. Vera Jones

    Just will have more people freely driving on our highways with their eyes closed !!

  5. Patrick Frye

    I agree with much of what you say, but if you have the right to put anything into your body that would include cocaine, etc. I would also say that the unjust results of these laws provide a moral obligation for change yet the recreational purposes still don't provide an imperative for breaking the law.

  6. Thomas Michael

    Vera Jones Rest assured Jesus Lady that people high on marijuana are able to keep their eyes open whenever they feel like it. Have you even tried marijuana once?? I feel as though your 'opinion' is fogged by ignorance. Scientific studies show that marijuana has no major negative effects on muscle coordination, as well as having low potential for health risks associated with long-term use. It's shameful that our society can have a legal limit on driving while intoxicated (on alcohol) and also encourage/familiarize our nation's youth to drink wine in church's like yours and yet our government refuses to even acknowledge the pleadings and concerns of the Cannabis community, labeling them ALL as criminals.

    I think our government's firm and unchanging stance on Marijuana is responsible for creating your opinion for you and many others like yourself who are ill-informed on the subject yet like to voice their opinion anyway. Our government, and people like you, act as though it's outlandish to consider legalizing pot, and instead our gov't keeps to the same routine of jailing teenagers and minorities over something harmless and misunderstood while the wrong types of people make money off of it.

    If I still haven't persuaded you an inch then I guess you should just pray that I find Jesus or something. Meanwhile you aid in the spread of misinformation and shrug off/discredit real issues that are destroying individual lives and families across America.

  7. Thomas Michael

    Patrick Frye I agree. Recreational purposes shouldn't be reason enough to go against society's laws. However, I think this issue rises above the meaning of 'recreational' use. This plant, like many consumers of it already know, is a true miracle of nature. We have mountains of synthetic drugs designed to maintain our daily health. We have all kinds of drugs to "fix" us. Anxiety medications, anti-depressants, testosterone pills, not even half of which are proven to solve the problem that people are feeling. Marijuana can help with all of these.

    Now hear me out; even people with true disabilities like Multiple sclerosis have experienced this. Although marijuana it may not treat the true under-lying problem, it helps them cope with the symptoms tremendously. And what's the down side? Nothing, other than paranoia of police. This is true for thousands of conditions that currently plague the human race. Anything as minor as nausea to something as serious as depression. And the even better news is that there aren't any negative side effects. How sad is it that we have become accustomed to and have accepted hearing "thoughts of suicide" in the side-effects list for prescription drugs on commercials we see everyday?

    Now I don't know about you but if my grandmother wasn't brain-washed by the government policy and action of the past decades I would SERIOUSLY advise her to turn to marijuana instead of her box of pills.

  8. Patrick Frye

    I go back and forth on this but I think the sick are ethically justified, although I also say go with whatever is most effective and that "might" not be MJ. The fact that medical studies have been delayed so long is horrible. Heck, cocaine used to be the cure for "the common cold, sinus infections, toothaches, chronic fatigue or exhaustion, depression, impotence, and morphine addiction" and I have to wonder if cocaine were to be heavily regulated would it be a more effective drug for fighting the symptoms of the flu?

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