The Colorado Department of Public Safety released a new study, published in March 2016, revealing data linked to the state’s law legalizing recreational marijuana use. The study was required by law, and the findings are causing some to question the wisdom of the decision to legalize the use and sale of the drug for public consumption.
According to the report, marijuana use is way up for young people as a result of legalization. In 2006, only 21 percent of people 18-25 reported using marijuana within 30 days of being asked. In 2014, the most recent year provided in the study, that figure increased to 31 percent.
The number of young people who view marijuana as dangerous also changed dramatically. In 2006, 18.5 percent of Coloradoans aged 18-25 said they thought there was a great risk in frequently using marijuana. In 2014, that number dropped to just above 8 percent.
The number of marijuana-linked driving fatalities and citations also increased by notable amounts. Proponents of legalization will likely be quick to point out marijuana-related tax revenue climbed significantly from 2014 to 2015. According to the report:
Total revenue from taxes, licenses, and fees increased from $76,152,468 in 2014 to $135,100,465 in 2015 (+77%). Excise tax revenue dedicated to school capital construction assistance was $35,060,590 in 2015.
Does Any of This Matter?
While all people should care what young people think about drugs, drug use, crime, substance abuse, and other related issues, including traffic fatalities, by focusing on these problems, I think we often miss the larger point entirely. Just because something may be unhealthy or unwise does not mean we should ban that behavior. For those of you who disagree, good luck trying to argue we should ban marijuana but not high-fat foods, alcohol, or other vices. Laws should only exist to enhance or protect liberty, not to eliminate it. When someone’s behavior puts the liberty of others at risk, we should work to prevent that behavior from occurring again in the future, but people should have the right to take risks in their own lives and engage in harmful behavior if they choose.
Why? There are many reasons, but perhaps the most logical of which is that if rights should be eliminated out of some paternalistic desire to “save” people, then who gets to decide which behaviors are harmful and which are not? How can any of those chosen for this epic task fairly and without bias make their decisions? Are you prepared to give up your rights when the majority comes knocking on your door and says, for instance, religion is too dangerous for you to participate in? Or atheism? Or freedom of speech? Or eating chocolate bars? Where do you draw the line, and how can you draw the line consistently?
At the end of the day, we’re either a nation that accepts the believe that individuals have rights or a nation that believes the majority should be able to force the minority to do what the majority wishes. It’s as simple as that.
Photo: Marijuana plant outside. Photo by Ryan Van Lenning.
h/t for the report: RealClearPolicy.com