Thats the fundamental question in many great controversies of our time regarding smoking, prostitution, abortion, stem cell research, marijuana, wearing a motorcycle helmet, the right to die with dignity, the use of steroids, and drug use to name a few.
At least half the time, we (ie. society) decide to limit ourselves. If you want to make money by inviting strangers to enjoy your body, too bad -- its against the law. If you want to hit the ball farther than anyone else on the team by taking steroids, tough luck -- its illegal.
But if you want to smoke cigarettes or have an abortion, you are still free to do so. For the time being, that is.
So it‘s all quite arbitrary as to what you can legally do with your own body in our supposedly “free“ country.
Thats why this Novembers vote on the Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative seems momentous: we dont often decide to legalize anything -- the trend is usually in the other direction.
In March, members of the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care turned in over 300,000 signatures from state voters, securing a place on the ballot for the Michigan Marijuana Act. The act would amend state law to allow authorized patients to use cannabis therapeutically under a doctors supervision.
If Michigan voters grant their approval, ours would be the 13th state to approve the use of medical marijuana since 1996, according to NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
Medical marijuana eases the pain and symptoms of glaucoma, MS, and chemotherapy. Should these people be forced to suffer excruciating pain or be forced to pay for prescription drugs costing thousands of dollars when inexpensive, effective marijuana is available? Vote your conscience on this one, and think of that member of your own family whose pain could have been eased.
Ah, but critics claim that in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, there are always a few Sneaky Petes who bend the rules so that they too can smoke pot.
Fortunately, two forward-thinking congressmen have a prescription for nipping this in the bud (no pun intended). Their idea is to simply quit harassing the American people over small amounts of marijuana and let us be free to use it.
What a concept! Freedom. Who could imagine?
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) and co-sponsor Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) have offered a resolution to decriminalize the personal use of marijuana. They have proposed ending federal penalties for Americans who possess fewer than 100 grams of marijuana, or a little less than a quarter ounce.
The vast amount of human activity ought to be none of the governments business, Frank said last week in a Capitol Hill press conference. I dont think it is the governments business to tell you how to spend your leisure time.
Rep. Frank, who doesnt smoke marijuana, points out that billions have been spent in law enforcement to try to stop something that Americans routinely thumb their noses at -- just as they did the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. NORML claims there are tens of millions of pot smokers in the U.S., and that there have been 20 million marijuana-related arrests since 1965. In fact, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in our country.
The arrests are a bonanza for law enforcement, courts and lawyers, but a real heartache for parents whove had to pay the legal bills for their teens, or have seen their kids sent to the county jail.
Under Franks proposal, it would still be illegal to deal marijuana or possess more than a quarter ounce. Obviously, this would require a bit of fait accompli from the government, winking at distribution.
Thus, the main problem with decriminalizing marijuana would, ironically, be a lack of government regulation.
Without government regulation of trade, organized crime would still be involved in marijuana‘s distribution. Then too, there is the question of potency: in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal, some strains are so potent from being refined through the years that smokers have suffered psychotic reactions.
If marijuana is going to be decriminalized, then we should also consider having it regulated and taxed, to the benefit of Michigan farmers and our state treasury.