The three most sensational recent measures to legalize the possession and consumption of marijuana, those of Uruguay and the US states of Colorado and Washington, also include provisions for its cultivation, distribution, etc., or at least provisions for future provisions, not just for its use. Many advocates of the former phenomena are not advocates of the latter. In fact, FEE just posted this Facebook status update about the licensing scheme in Colorado:
Some libertarians oppose marriage licenses for same-sex couples because they don’t want the state in the marriage business. (One argument like this was made in our first Arena.)
Are the licensed marijuana shops in Colorado a step in the right direction, or a step back because the state shouldn’t license businesses period?
As a libertarian, I see the logic. I don’t think the moral or efficiency arguments are convincing for licensing business in general. But I don’t consider it especially important when analyzing the policies. The real value of these legal changes is not in how they affect the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. The real value is that law enforcement agencies at the relevant level of jurisdiction will no longer be able to arrest people for possession! If this seems silly or obvious, my response is: don’t overthink it. The ability of law enforcement agencies to arrest people and ruin their lives—and the rule of law—based on actions that are not (very) socially destructive is an incredibly antisocial force. In practice, this is a cure incalculably more harmful than the disease it aims to counteract.
As we already know, legal marijuana outlets are not where most marijuana purchases are made. I don’t expect these new systems to change that fact. In fact, I fully expect the federal government of the US to try to clamp down on state-licensed outlets in Colorado and Washington. Socially speaking, this is a small price to pay for the ability of the common man to possess a plant that is comparable to alcohol without risking jail time for it. It can hardly be the case that people found in possession of marijuana will be made to produce documentation showing that they purchased it through state-approved channels. The licensing issue is really a distant second place.