Sir: In this supposedly free land of ours, I have the right to drink myself to oblivion, or otherwise harm myself in a variety of ways that many of us enjoy frequently, such as eating too much fat, breathing the air of London or playing computer games. In fact, I could do worse. I might want to immolate myself, or throw myself under a train. The actions of a lunatic, maybe, but not of a criminal. Yet, if I grow a certain plant on my window sill and smoke the leaves it produces, I run the risk of being locked up.
Where does this attitude come from? What is the fear that drives it? Is this a control issue? Or is it a matter of tradition?
John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, first published in 1859, captured the spirit of freedom that had been shouted earlier by the victors of the French Revolution and the American war of independence. His very simple statements, which are the backbone of much of the liberty we enjoy today, seem to apply to the issue of cannabis in the same way as they do to so much of the legislation that prevents or hinders the activity of our citizens. In his slim book, he makes two (amply justified) simple statements :
1. The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
2. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
Thomas Szasz and Judge James Pickles make strange allies, yet on this issue their voices, along with those of a great many others, echo these ideas. This is not an issue that is the business of government, any more than eating or drinking.
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