The Baker Institute at Rice University has been hosting an online debate this month to answer the question, “Will legalizing marijuana improve civil liberties?” While all four participants have a different opinion on what the legal status of marijuana should be, three of the four are in agreement that the way drug laws are enforced–particularly, the absurd degree of flexibility granted to law enforcement officers–poses a threat to civil liberties, and that liberalizing pot laws–to one degree or another–would restore civil liberties.
Only the fourth and final participant in the Baker Institute’s debate bothered to argue that removing or reducing penalties for marijuana possession would reduce civil liberties. That person is Kevin Sabet, a former staffer in Pres. Obama’s White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the co-founder of Project SAM, and the “quarterback of the anti-drug movement.” Here’s his pitch:
The argument that legalization would improve civil liberties rests on the notion that if marijuana was legal, there would be less of a need for the criminal justice system intruding on the lives of otherwise peaceful marijuana smokers. But it is unclear that legalization would greatly reduce criminal justice (specifically law enforcement) involvement in society. Already, only about two-tenths of 1 percent of all prison inmates appear to be incarcerated in prison simply for marijuana use.
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