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Respect for the Law?
by Daniel Drew Butterworth, Ph.D.
6 August 2003Cannibis

Laws that uphold one group's view of "morality" fail to take into consideration the fact that in order for people to respect the law, the law must first respect the rights of the people.  A response to Respect for the Law Going Up In Smoke.


In response to Scott Shore's recent article, "Respect for the Law Going Up in Smoke," at least one concerned citizen has declared in a public forum (www.cannabisnews.com) that, "If anything it is dumbed down and warped to the audience," meaning the readers of Intellectual Conservative.  I do not believe the article has been "dumbed down," but I do find Shore's article to be untruthful and illogical on several levels.

For example, conservatives have not "always maintained that there is a symbolic value to the law that, while perhaps unenforceable, still maintains social standards of preferred conduct." In fact, that statement is quite liberal, by constitutional standards. It suggests that a ruling elite should be allowed to make extraconstitutional laws whenever such laws uphold certain standards held by a religious segment of the nation. Constitutionally, such laws are strictly verboten, and any true conservative should understand that fact. Liberals are the ones who so often force their own moral standards on others, not conservatives. Take a look at the environmental laws for some prime examples.

I would argue that the people who founded this country were constitutionally conservative (since they wrote the document and signed it into law), and that some of those people, led by the likes of John Adams, did believe that a certain group labeled "elite" should be allowed to make the majority of the decisions  But another group of constitutional conservatives, led by Thomas Jefferson, believed that the rights of the states and the people should always take precedence over the rights of the union (see the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution for clarification on this matter). The latter were democratic; the former were essentially monarchists, though they could not "out" themselves as such because they wanted to gain the trust of the American people. The efforts of the latter are the reason why we have a two-house Congress, and the efforts of the former are why we now have a president who bypasses the Congress whenever he wants to wage war or make other important decisions about the security of the country. Which group represents true conservatism? The Jeffersonians do, for it is the Jeffersonians who want to maintain the values that the country fought for to free itself from the British "elitist" system. The other group is conservative only in the sense that it wants to return us to that elitist system. When the author, Scott Shore, writes "conservatives," he means to say those who wish to return the country to an elitist system no matter the cost to any and all freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. He is referring to conservatives in the Cotton Mather sense, not in the constitutional sense.

In that context, it becomes easier to understand his viewpoint in this article. He berates the recent (constitutionally correct) ruling by the Supreme Court--that what goes on sexually in one's bedroom is none of the government's business--because the ruling fails to support his "elitist" ideology that proclaims the superiority of heterosexuals over homosexuals. That is another way of saying that he supports laws against homosexuality, along with laws against "explicit pornography" (and, one can assume, prostitution), because such things run counter to his Judeo-Christian elitist mindset.

In fact, the only reason that he wishes to change the laws about marijuana is that he finds the current laws "hypocritical" when that substance is compared with alcohol and tobacco, and we already know that alcohol prohibition was a dismal failure. He wants to maintain the rest of the war on some drugs because he believes that cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs are more deadly than alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.  Never mind that all illegal drugs combined kill fewer people than either alcohol or tobacco (pick one), not to mention that they kill far fewer people than do prescription medicines. So, while he wants to legalize and regulate cannabis because of hypocritical and practical concerns, hypocrisy and pragmatism are not considered concerns for the rest of the war on some drugs. Why? Because the war on some drugs is an elitist operation that allows government to continue to stick its nose into the homes and lives of its citizens. In short, he doesn't want to throw the elitist baby out with the bathwater.

Interestingly, Shore wishes to place marijuana regulation squarely in the hands of companies like Philip Morris. You remember Philip Morris, don't you? They're the ones who infused their tobacco products with even more carcinogenic substances in order to make the tobacco more addictive, thus increasing consumption. What a lovely idea, eh? Let's give cannabis regulation to the one industry that this country should trust the least (or next to least, right after petroleum, pharmaceuticals, and the "defense" industry).

Finally, what weakens the "moral fiber" of this country is people like the author who require government assistance to maintain their religious codes of ethics. The first amendment to the Constitution makes it very clear that government will make no law establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. There is a big difference between laws against willful destruction of a person and/or his or her property, and laws against irreligious ideas and actions. The former is an acceptable and necessary part of any civil society; the latter has no place in a country that claims to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

When you see "moral" in an argument about law, replace the word with "religious" and see if it fits. In almost every case it does, and it shouldn't. Laws that attempt to uphold one group's view of "morality" fail to take into consideration the fact that in order for people to respect the law, the law must first respect the rights of people. That means everyone, not just those with a particular religious persuasion.


Daniel Drew Butterworth lives in Georgetown, Texas
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