Liberty Lost: The Moral Case for Marijuana Law Reform
Eric D. Blumenson
Suffolk University Law School
Eva S. Nilsen
Boston University School of Law
March 21, 2009
Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 09-20
Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 85, 2009
Marijuana policy analyses typically focus on the relative costs and benefits of present policy and its feasible alternatives. This essay addresses a prior, threshold issue: whether marijuana criminal laws abridge fundamental individual rights, and if so, whether there are grounds that justify doing so.
Over 700,000 people are arrested annually for simple marijuana possession, a small but significant proportion of the one hundred million Americans who have committed the same crime. In this essay, we present a civil libertarian case for repealing marijuana possession crimes. We put forward two arguments, corresponding to the two distinct liberty concerns implicated by laws that both ban marijuana use and punish its users. The first argument opposes criminalization, demonstrating that marijuana use does not constitute the kind of wrongful conduct that is a prerequisite for just punishment. The second argument demonstrates that even in the absence of criminal penalties, prohibition of marijuana use violates a moral right to exercise autonomy in personal matters - a corollary to Mill's harm principle in the utilitarian tradition, or, in the non-consequentialist tradition, to the respect for personhood that was well described by the Supreme Court in its recent Lawrence v. Texas opinion. Both arguments are based on principles of justice that are uncontroversial in other contexts.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 21
Keywords: criminal law, liberty, punishment, marijuana, drug war, civil liberties, retribution
Date posted: March 23, 2009 ; Last revised: September 4, 2009
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