Thursday, June 23, 2011

Budget-initiated moral relativism

In case my jargon-y headline threw you off, this post is an update on an old theme, namely the one I first mentioned here, in "On budget woes and value systems".

It's been a little while since I wrote about the growing "trend" (for lack of a better word) toward the decriminalization of marijuana. It began in California with Prop 19 (which ultimately failed), gained traction with now ex-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's passage of Senate Bill 1449 (which, like a previous Massachusetts law, decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug), then gained international attention this month when an interesting crew of individuals declared the War on Drugs a "failure".

Now, it seems that Congress has responded to the international criticism, with the unlikely duo of Ron Paul and Barney Frank (who have in fact teamed up on multiple occasions before) introducing legislation this week that would effectively decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level.
A group of US representatives plan to introduce legislation that will legalize marijuana and allow states to legislate its use, pro-marijuana groups said Wednesday.
The legislation would limit the federal government's role in marijuana enforcement to cross-border or inter-state smuggling, and allow people to legally grow, use or sell marijuana in states where it is legal.
The bill, which is expected to be introduced on Thursday by Republican Representative Ron Paul and Democratic Representative Barney Frank, would be the first ever legislation designed to end the federal ban on marijuana.
Sixteen of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
But planting, selling or commercially distributing marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Regardless of your feelings on marijuana usage (Karl Denninger, who tipped me off to this article, has fairly strong opinions on the matter), this legislation is consistent with the traditional view of states' rights trumping federal control, a dynamic that has been steadily fading in recent decades.

But lest you think that this bill represents a shift away from Washington-based paternalism, rest assured that the timing of this bill's introduction means that budgetary concerns--and not political ideologies--are likely foremost in this discussion.

When financial times are tough, we are often forced to reconsider what we really want our federal government to be doing with our tax dollars. While we may not like the idea of a nation full of pot-smokers, we simply can't afford to continue legislating and fighting it the way we have--this, incidentally, is exactly what killed Prohibition back in the 1930s.

Recessions and budget crises have a way of revealing a society's true values in a way that is often impossible in boom times. It will be interesting to see how this bill is received in Congress, and I'll be sure to update you all if and when any news breaks. My guess is that we're not quite ready to pass this type of bill, but I've been surprised before.

(h/t Karl Denninger)

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