Feelings are not necessarily a solid basis for laws

23 Jun 2016 01:49 am
Posted by: Donna

venn diagram feelings laws
Helpful Venn Diagram to illustrate the ideal relationship between your feelz about something that likely has nothing to with you and what the law over it should be

I was disappointed to see AZ Republic‘s Linda Valdez had gotten lured in by the anti-pot hysteria, as she is now leaning against legalization in Arizona based on it. In a recent column Valdez repeated the usual logically fallacious and oft-debunked claims against legalization coming straight from the leader of the anti campaign, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

Sadder still, the bad faith arguments and fear mongering were accompanied by Valdez blatantly appealing to emotion and seeming to operate from the assumption that her personal experience and perceptions are universal.

Arizona’s medical marijuana law is a farce that’s disproportionately used by young men who claim more pain than their years would justify in order to gain a steady supply of high…

…Sure. People have been seeking ways to get high for millennia, but legalizing marijuana is not the same as repealing Prohibition.

Alcohol was legal, widely used and commonly accepted before Prohibition. The same is not true of marijuana.

It continues to carry the taint – and counter-culture glamour – of being an illegal substance. You can have a glass of wine at Grandma’s Thanksgiving table. Passing around marijuana cookies is a different matter.

Making marijuana fully legal for adults represents a major step and a significant validation of use.

I really don’t care if adults want to smoke themselves stupid. But don’t forget: We all pay a price for layabouts and bad parents…

The anti-pot people often cite that bit about young men being the primary users of medical MJ, though it is really a separate issue from that of the legality of recreational MJ. The intention, I suspect, is to create an image of hordes of young men engaging in scary activity, so as to further stoke the public’s fear of Reefer Madness. But if you examine the claim they are making for even a minute it falls apart. There’s no reason to assume that a large percentage of young men are faking symptoms for medical MJ cards, considering how young men are both more likely to work in physically demanding jobs that cause chronic, debilitating pain and to engage in sports and other activities with a high risk of the kinds of injuries that cause ongoing pain.

Also, as Valdez notes, pot use is stigmatized as “counter-culture” so it’s no surprise that young men would be less reluctant about using it to manage pain than other groups, such as older women. Who happen to have a problem with prescription opiate abuse, which most people would agree is worse than pot. Opposing something that has shown medical promise on the basis of there being a “taint” on it and accepting unquestioningly that the taint should continue to exist is not just irrational, it could be harming public health.

Furthermore, assuming there are some young dudes faking it to get cards, I’d hardly call that the moral hazard crisis of our time. It’s actually an argument for, not against, legalizing recreational use because with legal recreational they could weed out (pardon the pun) the malingerers from those with genuine medical conditions that can be treated with marijuana.

Valdez asserts that pot is different than alcohol because alcohol is more socially accepted and consumed at respectable gatherings. This is yet another feelings-based argument, rooted in outdated notions of propriety and tradition. From a public health and safety standpoint, it is rubbish. Alcohol, despite being widely enjoyed responsibly by your grandma and others, is also a frigging nightmare of a substance when it is abused, which it frequently is. But the only thing worse than legal alcohol is prohibition of it, which we learned the hard way a century ago, and which not even Sheila Polk would go so far as to propose. And by clinging to pot prohibition because eww weird, we may be missing the opportunity to help people shift from drinking heavily to using something less harmful.

Finally, Valdez pulls out the patented “what about the children?” trump card to bolster the anti-legalization position. But it feels like it’s tacked on as an afterthought, since it’s clear that Valdez herself is the one who is profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of other people using marijuana. The only cure for that is to legalize it, work on the best practices in regulating it (which means more states should join in legalization as Colorado and Washington aren’t going to be the ideal laboratories for the whole country), and get people used to it being legal.

Ginned up panics over children and tapping into ick factors and fear of things that are weird/different has been the stock in trade of social conservatives forever. They sold opposition to things like same sex marriage by portraying LGBT people as sick and wrong, as well as by appealing to straight people’s sense of pride in following the rules (gay people wanted “special rights”, which we all knew were reserved for straights). But now marriage equality is the law and Americans are getting used to it. It’s often said that you can’t legislate morality, which may be true, but acceptance of that which should never have been deemed unacceptable has tended to follow legalization.

It’s the anti-choice movement that really takes the prize when it comes to manipulating people’s emotions and authoritarian/paternalistic impulses. While most Americans don’t want to ban abortion outright and don’t really think it’s murder, too many will readily agree to restrictions like bans after a certain point in the pregnancy, or parental notification requirements, or even of only allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest, because they feel right. It has nothing at all to do with good public health policy or the wise application of criminal statutes, as such restrictions often devastate the girls and women they are enforced against.

It’s not out of malice that most people who oppose legalizing pot or who think there should be some limits on abortion rights do so. But most of them also don’t spend much time considering how harshly those who run afoul of such prohibitions can be punished for it. That’s another big problem with feelings driving opinions on what laws should be. Linda Valdez probably doesn’t want anyone to go to jail or have their life and future ruined for being caught with a joint in their possession, especially not while that same person could drink themselves into a stupor nightly and face no similar legal ramifications merely for doing that. But that is the horrendously racist, unfair, and probably damaging to people’s health situation that exists now.

None of this is meant to disparage feelings! God knows women are used to having our experiences and ideas dismissed as “irrational”, even when we’re right. Emotion animates empathy and our drive to seek justice and the betterment of our species. Gut feelings are powerful and attention should be paid to them. But they must be balanced by ration and thought beyond how we, personally, in our own limited perceptions, understand things.

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