Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Vermont all legalized recreational marijuana use in the past year.
Oregon went further.
Oregonians voted in favor of Measure 109, which legalized psychedelic mushrooms for licensed, “therapeutic” use.
Oregonians also voted to decriminalize hard drugs: small amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, and oxycodone, among other substances. Measure 110, the “Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative,” lessened the criminal penalties for hard drug possession. The initiative gives the person in custody the option of paying a small fine ($100) or entering drug “treatment”– merely completing a “health assessment.” The measure effectively reclassified a misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation.
Both initiatives went into effect on February 1st.
California is also considering a bill to decriminalize psychedelics for personal and “therapeutic” use.
The statewide vote to decriminalize hard drugs was interesting, considering Oregon’s problems concerning drug and alcohol addiction. According to one report, Oregon was the worst in the country for pain reliever addiction, second worst for methamphetamine abuse, and fourth worst for cocaine and alcohol addiction (also, see here).
Measure 110 claims to be a compassionate move away from punitive incarceration to disincentivize drug abuse toward a more holistic, health-and-treatment-based approach. Oregon plans to use marijuana tax revenue to fund addiction recovery centers, which voters believe will be filled with people voluntarily choosing to receive treatment.
Should Christians support drug decriminalization and legalization? How should we respond? Though we may be conservatives, libertarians, and “progressives,” our priority is not to our respective political ideologies but to be living epistles – ambassadors of the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Politically, I understand – but disagree with – the desire to decriminalize and legalize drugs. Drug decriminalization is a compromise – a pathway toward legalization, which is the objective. Many who support this drug decriminalization hold to a libertarian viewpoint. They believe in restricting government interference and expanding individual liberty.
But Christians should consider that the libertarian argument isn’t just about smaller government. It’s also self-serving as it refuses to take the real-life consequences of drug use and addiction seriously. Families are affected when a relative is a drug addict. Families may endure physical violence by the addict, emotional stress, financial strain, and the obligation of caring for loved ones who can’t give up their dependencies.
Decriminalization affects society. If people aren’t arrested and only fined, money is diverted into less punitive alternatives or actual treatment. Most of the revenue used to treat drug enthusiasts comes from taxes rather than the private sector.
The decriminalization argument is less libertarian and more libertinism: legitimizing the self-destructive behavior of drug use minus the consequences and responsibility to oneself, family, and society.
Decriminalization leads to drug tourism: traveling to specific cities because it’s easier to score drugs. Drug tourism has added to many municipal problems – including homelessness – in Seattle, WA, Denver, CO, Sacramento, CA, and San Francisco, CA.
Christians should be more practical about the upshot of drug addiction. As self-destructive behaviors are destigmatized, they become normalized. Drug decriminalization is the obvious step toward legalization. Decriminalization is soft legalization.
Christians should be wary of drug decriminalization advocates who appropriate an unearned moral authority, exercising well-meaning intentions to justify themselves at the expense of those that need help.
One is that proponents want to “treat addiction” rather than punish it. It’s not an either/or proposition; Christians must advocate both. Champions of decriminalization never clearly explain how removing the legal penalties of drug abuse helps to reduce drug addiction. They also don’t explain how decriminalization increases the likelihood of treatment.
Decriminalization actively ignores the power of dependency and the proficiency of functional addicts. Someone not imprisoned for drug use in favor of a small fine isn’t guaranteed to miraculously transcend the demons of addiction by conceding s/he has a problem and then seeking help.
Supporters of drug decriminalization claim that sentencing for drug crimes increases the incarceration rates of blacks and other minorities, which supporters see as unfair. Their position is viewed through the moral lens of criminal justice reform. Aside from “racism,” these activists never delve into “why” this affects racial minorities to the extent it does. The cultural behaviors and social realities, such as family breakdown – including fatherlessness – that contribute to increased drug use among minorities aren’t addressed. “Decriminalizers” seemingly want blacks and Hispanics to use drugs indiscriminately, notwithstanding the predictable social repercussions.
Reducing incarceration (and mandatory treatment) may lessen the number of racial minorities imprisoned, but it doesn’t necessarily diminish drug use. Letting drug users remain in their communities allows them to continue drug abuse, which increases hospital costs and the police having to deal with increased overdoses and crime. It also enables users to seduce others into this self-debasing behavior. How is this “justice” or “reform”?
Decriminalization and destigmatizing drug use will make it easier for those suffering from drug addiction to lessen what remains of their dignity. This toleration disregards the humanity of those activists’ claims to support.
Christians must be clear that love and compassion can’t be redefined to legitimize the self-destruction or death of fellow image-bearers, even if it’s justified as a function of individual liberty.