The real argument about morality

Conor Friedersdorf nails it: It Is Immoral to Cage Humans for Smoking Marijuana — in The Atlantic

There are times when locking human beings in cages is morally defensible. If, for example, a person commits murder, rape, or assault, transgressing against the rights of others, then forcibly removing him from society is the most just course of action. In contrast, it is immoral to lock people in cages for possessing or ingesting a plant that is smoked by millions every year with no significant harm done, especially when the vast majority of any harm actually done is borne by the smoker.

That there are racial disparities in who is sent to prison on marijuana charges is an added injustice that deserves attention. But if blacks and whites were sent to prison on marijuana charges in equal proportion, jail for marijuana would still be immoral.

America has used marijuana charges to cage people for so long that it seems unremarkable. The time has come to see the status quo for what it is. A draconian punishment for a victimless crime has been institutionalized and normalized, so much so that even proponents of the policy are blind to its consequences. […]

I submit that a more urgent problem is Americans who shy away from talk about the dubious moral status of marijuana prohibition. It is, at its core, an exercise in using people as means to an end. The end is maintaining a stigma against marijuana use. And the means is locking humans in cages with dangerous people.

One day, we will look back at that tradeoff in moral horror.


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42 Responses to The real argument about morality

  1. DonDig says:

    Yes, yes, yes!
    This post and the referenced article are the perfect rebuttal for the failed status quo.
    Bravo! Bravo!

  2. Howard says:

    As we move away from the immorality of cannabis prohibition, these folks will be dragged kicking and screaming;

    Jeez. The loyal opposition will remain loyal to the bitter end. And ignorant.

    • Jean Valjean says:

      Ignorant’s the word. Right on cue her fox news fan base launch into a dems v repubs argument….as if that had anything to do with the ongoing wod?

    • Crut says:

      My nice-face reply to one of the commenters: The ignorance of the comments there is truly astounding.

      “Also I have heard the things that are being put into marijuana these days is much more potent than what used to be.” -Kandylynn

      Yes, water, light AND soil of all things. It’s horrible what goes into making a plant grow. I’ve even heard that some of those dastardly “other” people sing to their plants!

      • Howard says:

        One of my favorite comments went something like this;

        “We don’t need another intoxicating substance introduced into this country.”

        Right, and Colorado and Washington are having their cannabis air lifted from a nefarious marijuana barge located somewhere in the Pacific. There’s never been any marijuana in the US until just recently. No, not ever.

    • Hope says:

      So true, Howard. The ignorance is stunning. Just yesterday I was reading a letter from an MD in Florida and all I could think was the ignorance was absolutely stunning… and he’s a doctor. Which makes it even worse. Scarier. That a trained physician could be that ignorant.

  3. Servetus says:

    There is a grimness that comes with knowing much about the drug war. This heightened state of awareness seems to crush spontaneity while casting a dark shadow on all other aspects of life, at least for freedom lovers with a conscience, and those lacking a preternatural hysteria about drugs.

    It’s the same feeling one gets from reading German novels set during the Nazi era. Novels like Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada. Or Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner. Fascist oppression affected people in ways that made daily routines for ordinary Germans bleak, uncertain, and dangerous, regardless of whether one was by definition an enemy of the state, or acted as the good German.

    The Snowden revelations, and the complicity of the drug war in the creation of the present surveillance state, have exponentially increased the threat to freedom of action and thought throughout the world. The present government has within its surveillance power the ability to arrest the entire segment of casual drug consumers using manipulated data. Truth and justice are irrelevant in a corrupted government. The goal is to make us forget what it means to be free citizens. If these were the only threats posed by the drug war, it would be enough to justify ending it.

    • War Vet says:

      Freedom is about choosing between Pepsi or Coke . . . Browns or Vikings . . . Adidas or Nike . . . Fox or NBC . . . Pop radio or Pop radio . . . Saturn or Nissan . . . go medium or go large in the value meal. That is why millions of soldiers risk(ed) their life.

      • allan says:

        indeed… never as a child (ever ever ever) could I imagine being a child witnessing a drug raid in my home. It’s a disconnect my mind can’t make. Tho’ in perspective, had my father and mother been communists or black or yellow or any other condemnable-group-of-the-day, that wouldn’t have been true.

        But there was always a point on which my childhood heroes stood – they fought for our freedom. And truly, by the words of our founding documents, our freedoms are inviolable and should our government grow to become a violator of those freedoms, the yoke of responsibility to redress those grievances in whatever manner the times dictate as most efficient to that end falls upon our shoulders.

        As an adult, that penchant for heroes shifted as I learned history in a bit more detail and context. Crazy Horse and Gandhi, Edward Abbey and Mother Theresa… Bob Marley, Monty Python and all the avatars that graced my life with their own unique glow… all have made me a better advocate for all those for whom I speak.

        I’m a happy guy. Until I’m not and I’m never happy with the WOD. The longer I stay at this the madderer I get. And if I ever need it I can think of my dad slogging thru the snow and frostbite in France, lugging around his machine gun trying to just stay alive in frozen hell. If he were here to hear me tell him what was going on, he’d be with us and just as mad as we are.

        My mom on other hand would warn me to wear my helmet… “watch out for those falling bricks, you know that wall isn’t stable. And take your gloves!” Thanks mom… I know.

        *rant off*

        sorry… did I mention I called the psychotic hotline to get their predilections for the gnu year? I felt like Alice…

        We did good last year, can’t wait to see what we get to do this year. Speaking of predilections, I sure hope the prohibs keep up their media blitz… public scorn and humiliation is as good as they get from here on out.

  4. claygooding says:

    Although blacks use of marijuana is no higher than whites they are 4 times as likely to be imprisoned,,all you have to do is visit your local TDC and verify it for yourself.
    I would say it has a lot more to do with their economical status,,they can’t afford lawyers,,that is why all prisons are filled with 99.9% poor,,if cops busted rich people for pot the arresting officer would probably miss hours on the job sitting through hearings and trials instead of arresting more marijuana users,,,it is not cost efficient giving prosecutors cases that won’t plea bargain and they have to spend limited funds on going to trials,,,besides,,if the police start busting rich people for marijuana possession laws get changed,,,poor people just keep on marching into prison.

  5. Windy says:

    Completely OT but just wanted to give a heads up to anyone planning to visit Payette, ID:

    • Duncan20903 says:


      That one ranks right up there with the guy who got pulled over and searched because he was doing precisely the speed limit. At least the judge did toss that nonsense and even lectured the cop for doing it.

      Don’t let me give them any ideas but it sure wouldn’t shock me to learn that some cop somewhere decides to pull someone over and search a vehicle because motor vehicles are often associated with the transportation of “narcotics.”

  6. darkcycle says:

    WOnderful. Well written and straight to the black heart of marijuana prohibition.

  7. Francis says:

    America has used marijuana charges to cage people for so long that it seems unremarkable. The time has come to see the status quo for what it is. A draconian punishment for a victimless crime has been institutionalized and normalized, so much so that even proponents of the policy are blind to its consequences.

    The power of status quo bias in shaping our perceptions and opinions is tremendous. That’s certainly the case with drug prohibition, and it applies even to those of us who oppose it. Drug prohibition is not merely an “ineffective” policy or a “waste of resources.” It’s not even just an “immoral” policy. It is a shockingly barbaric and evil policy.

    • allan says:

      aye Francis… we make it humorous here on the couch twixt ourselves but there is nothing funny about WODbeast.

      Friedersdorf’s piece is spot on. But it’s still anger-lite.

      Our indignation is truly righteous. WE didn’t make Peter McWilliams choke on his own vomit and die. WE aren’t the cops SELLING DRUGS that shot Patrick Dorismond. WE didn’t shoot Kathryn Johnston and plant pot in her home. WE haven’t been hiding for 40 years the FACT that cannabis is an effective cancer fighter. We don’t care what microscopic particles are in anybody’s urine… and we haven’t been committing fraud for a century.

      I continue to stand on my statement that the drug war is a war of oppression and that those maintaining the WOD and profiting from the WOD are traitors committing treasonous acts.

      And that spineless Prez Choom… he talks good but he don’t walk his talk. Cowardice? Bought-and-paid-for? or just too cool for school? Whatever. He’s as guilty as any.

  8. Emma says:

    Kevin likes to point out that “only a small percentage” of US state and federal prisoners were convicted of cannabis possession. This still adds up to thousands of people.

    • strayan says:

      Over the last 50 years it’d be hundreds of thousands.

    • Malc says:

      “In the United States, drug arrests have tripled in the last 25 years, however most of these arrests have been for simple possession of low-level drugs. In 2005, nearly 43% of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses. Marijuana possession arrests accounted for 79% of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990s. Nearly a half million people are in state or federal prisons or a local jail for a drug offense, compared to 41,000 in 1980. Most of these people have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity” – page 4

      “With over 5 million people on probation or parole in the United States, drug use on parole or probation has become the primary basis by which thousands of people are returned to prison. These technical violations of parole or probation account for as many as 40% of new prison admissions in some jurisdictions.” – page 6

      –Drug Policy, Criminal Justice and Mass Imprisonment, by Bryan Stevenson

      • strayan says:

        Stop your whining Malc, Keith Humphrey’s says the prison population has fallen THREE YEARS IN A ROW!

        …I can’t for the life of me understand while all these anti-prohibition types are so upset when mass incarceration isn’t even an issue any more under the Obama administration.

        • Freeman says:

          …I can’t for the life of me understand while all these anti-prohibition types are so upset when mass incarceration isn’t even an issue any more under the Obama administration.

          Come now, Strayan, surely you’ve been reading the finely-edited-to-remove-any-rational-debate talking points at the Redaction Based Community long enough to know that it’s because anti-prohib types are all “opinionated, stubborn, ignorant, irrational, and angry” by nature.

      • claygooding says:

        23 million marijuana arrests since 1937 and counting,,,even now the federal government continues paying bounty money for marijuana arrests,,which means no matter what a memo recommends for a DA or prosecutor the police are going to arrest you for their funding,,,drug war still on!

    • Freeman says:

      Kevin likes to point out that “only a small percentage” of US state and federal prisoners were convicted of cannabis possession.

      Yep. We didn’t really need that civil rights movement because “only a small percentage” of negros were being lynched. And, like the majority of those convicted prisoners, they were black. So it’s alright then.

      I really hate it when someone of privilege downplays oppression against minorities as if they were equally affected. Like when Kleiman says “I think it’s worth taking the transition cost” to escalate the worst and most racist policies of prohibition to support tax revenue and high prices in re-legalizing states.

  9. Dante says:

    If and when America looks back in horror, I think it would be a good idea to remember the drug warriors who caused all the horror.

    Payback is hell. Talking to you, drug warriors.

  10. Duncan20903 says:


    Yesterday I bumped into a standard issue “well the death penalty would eliminate drug use once and for all” clown. It got me searching for failures of the death penalty among the usual suspect countries. Hold onto your hats my friends, this one is from the “beam me up Scotty, there’s no intelligent life on this planet” category:

    Indonesia’s prison drug rings out of control

    In another blow to the already lax security at Cipinang Narcotics Penitentiary in East Jakarta, the Jakarta Police announced on Monday that they had found another international drug syndicate being controlled by two inmates inside the prison.

    “ES has been serving half of his sentence for distributing illegal drugs,” Sudjarno said. “After follow-up investigations, we found that ES got the drugs from fellow inmate JW, who is a Malaysian.”

    JW was sentenced to death for the possession of 350 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and had been serving one-and-a-half years in prison while awaiting execution.

    “JW ordered illegal drugs from other Malaysian suspects, identified as AGU and AH, who are still at large,” Sudjarno said. “We’re now cooperating with the Malaysian Police to trace their whereabouts.”

    Sudjarno suggested the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) accelerate JW’s execution to prevent him from repeating his crimes.

    Never in even my most extreme hallucinations did I think that I’d hear about a man already sentenced to death for dealing get busted for dealing. So have we reached the outer limits of the outer limits yet? No way, if you see a black swan, don’t be shocked if you turn around and see an entire flock. From page 4, same link as above:

    September 2012: Nigerian Adam Wilson, sentenced to death for heroin smuggling, is busted for running a crystal methamphetamine ring from prison on Nusakambangan Island. Police confiscate 8.7 kilograms of crystal meth worth a staggering Rp 17.4 billion. Only in March 2013, after 10 years in jail, was Wilson executed.

    November 2012: Seven inmates – including five on death row – are busted in two cases in separate prisons on Nusakambangan Island. The inmates are linked to the arrest of a journalist in Jakarta carrying 2.6 kilograms of crystal meth and counterfeit money, and the confiscation of 2.4 kg of crystal meth in Jayapura, Papua.

    Damn it Scotty, energize! Energize! Mr. Scott…? Mr. Scott…? Scotty! Don’t leave me here! I’m still alive for the love of god! Mr. Scott…?

    • strayan says:

      The prohibidiots still have room to get more extreme on this though Duncan. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to argue that anyone caught with drugs should be executed on the spot so they can’t go on selling drugs whilst they await the firing squad.

  11. claygooding says:

    The prohibitionist are being run out of office,,this is just a start,,watch as cities and towns start removing the people that want to continue arresting marijuana users just because it helps them buy more military gear.

    LA Sheriff Lee Baca expected to resign Tuesday

    LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Eyewitness News has learned that embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is expected to resign.

    A source in county government, who spoke to the sheriff, told Eyewitness News that Baca intends to announce his resignation Tuesday morning.

    Baca, 71, called the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and met individually with members of his command staff to make his intentions known.

    The decision comes in the middle of Baca’s re-election campaign, and as 18 of his deputies face federal charges for inmate beatings. “snip”

    He is the biggest opponent to marijuana reform in LA,TMK,and having him out is only half the job,,,getting him replaced with someone willing to lose the federal funding for marijuana arrests will be the problem.

    • Windy says:

      Hopefully, the voters of LA County will elect a true Constitutional Sheriff this time, but I really do not expect it, I think most Californians wouldn’t know how to even determine if a candidate understands the Constitutional purpose of the Sheriff. Something about CA seems to make the people who live there blind to both the history of this country and to the reality of the mess they have created with the people they’ve elected over the past 50 years (or longer).

  12. Servetus says:

    Noam Chomsky calls drug war a race war:

    “It’s not based on crime,” Chomsky continued. “The device that was used to recriminalize the black population was drugs. The drug wars are fraud — a total fraud. They have nothing to do with drugs, the price of drugs doesn’t change. What the drug war has succeeded in doing is to criminalize the poor. And the poor in the United States happen to be overwhelmingly black and Latino.”

    Chomsky then made his most explosive statement, claiming that the war on drugs is, in fact, “a race war.”

    “It’s a race war. Almost entirely, from the first moment, the orders given to the police as to how to deal with drugs were, ‘You don’t go into the suburbs and arrest the white stockbroker sniffing coke in the evening, but you do go into the ghettos, and if a kid has a joint in his pocket, you put him in jail.’ So it starts with police action, not the police themselves, but the orders given to them.”

    “The black population now — they don’t call it ‘slavery,’ but it’s under conditions of impoverishment and deprivation that are extremely severe, so if you look at the past 400 years of United States history, there have only been about 20 or 30 years of relative freedom for the black population. And that’s a real scar on society.”

  13. claygooding says:

    (watching CNN,,every show has a marijuana legalization story and not one pot joke yet,,impressive.)

  14. 5 pieces of propaganda Kevin Sabet wants you to get confused about while he lies his ass off. Thanks to the Huff for the prohibitionists forum on rebuttal lies:
    David Frum is already hitting the tweet button.

  15. OK, let me try to make up for the error of my ways. Is it immoral for a lobbying firm chairman to write an article entitled: Who will say no to marijuana? One whose lobbying firm includes multiple pharmaceutical interests?

    You can take a gander here:

    • allan says:

      wow… that is sooo bad. If I wanted to look like a dumb-ass in a nat’l mag I would’ve written it just like that!

      • jean valjean says:

        im sure hes hoping that most of his readers will be unaware that his 10 biggest clients are pharmas with a direct interest in the suppression of mmj. thanks t c for the research and tip off.

    • kaptinemo says:

      It just goes to show something: prohibs live in a mental bubble. It’s the only place their Walter Mitty fantasies about ‘saving society from drugs (and druggies)!’ can survive. Expose said fantasies publicly, and Reality immediately crushes them, courtesy of the Internet.

      Many years ago, I read over at DEAWatch the ruminations of an agent who complained that they didn’t ‘educate’ the ‘kids’ well enough to be good little anti-drug robots (Of course, he couched it in more neutral terms, but that was the gist). They didn’t invest enough in an Internet ‘presence’ to counter reformer efforts.

      Completely left out of his urinating-and-moaning was the fact that they were already known as the purveyors of lies, particularly to kids, and that the kids figured they were being lied to and went on the Internet and found out just how much they’d been lied to.

      A long time ago, a science-fiction writer named Jerry Pournelle had posited that the Soviet Union could not continue in the age of the personal computer because the people could use them to find out the lies behind the official pronouncements.

      The exact same dynamic is at work WRT drug prohibition. People are using the Internet to subvert the foundation of lies that the prohibitionists built up, oh-so-painstakingly, to create their own little taxpayer-funded ecological niche. That foundation is under attack daily from millions upon millions of virtual jackhammers, triggered every time someone use a computer to fact-check a prohib’s lies.

      And that’s just about every time they move their mouths or type on their keyboards. Makes things so much simpler, doesn’t it?

      • Windy says:

        Points for mentioning Jerry Pournelle (another of my favorite authors, got quite a few of his books on my library shelves).

        Frankly, I don’t understand why it is taking so long to turn the public opinion against the prohibitches. Their lies were already being fact checked and exposed back in ’89, and not only online. 24 years to get only this far? S o s l o w in the age of instantaneous communication.

        • kaptinemo says:

          Windy, I can only surmise that with the slow ascent of the DARE Generation into its’ social and political majority, the impetus for change began to rise with them; the previous generation was too ensorcelled by prohib BS (which played on that generation’s innate racial and ethnic prejudices) to think anything needed reforming.

          With them out of the way, courtesy of the Grim Reaper, the field became open for the long-suppressed reform impetus to finally erupt openly and fill the niche being vacated by those who blindly and unthinkingly supported prohibition.

          The tech was always there; it was just there had to be enough people to desire to use it to effect the necessary change. That was the tipping point, the critical mass, so to speak. And, I’ll throw my tuppence in the hat, and say that, speaking as an ersatz historian, that was in 2009 with the Mark Phelps incident.

          The ritual, formulaic, career-salvaging self-flagellations common to celebrities caught with contraband that were initially engaged in were greeted for the first time by a collective yawn, followed by a “Yeah, yeah, right, and we know it’s all kabuki, anyway, weed’s not that dangerous, so stop boring us with this BS.”

          I knew back then and wrote as well right here that that was it; the long awaited tipping point had arrived, and that our time had come. That that collective yawn signaled that the old messages, that were specifically tailored for the previous generation, had been rejected by their replacements, and that would signal in turn the rise of a generation more socially and politically disposed to re-legalization. And everything that’s happened since then, with few exceptions, has followed that pattern.

          A confluence of forces have arrived together from different quarters to produce a ‘perfect storm’ of reform. Computers were one catalyst among many. But once they were being wielded by enough reformers, they became the weapons for justice they are proving to be.

        • kaptinemo says:

          Excuse me, my bad; it was Michael Phelps, Olympian extraordinaire. ‘Amotivated’? Yeah, right, pull the other leg…

  16. primus says:

    Comments are one-sided. Against. As expected by everyone except the author of that bilge.

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