In the marijuana legalization debate, two talking points are often utilized: taxation and regulation. These are good arguments from a liberal perspective, but quite problematic in a conservative or libertarian context.
The basis for justifying the legalization of marijuana is simple. Consenting adults should be allowed to choose what to put in their bodies, whether or not it’s harmful, so long as there are no externalities. This is the only legitimate and principled basis for legalization.
Regardless, in almost every discussion or debate on marijuana, we hear something along the lines of, “Well, if weed is legal, we could tax it and use the money for drug education.” Although it sounds altruistic, this is not a principled conservative or libertarian argument. Rather, is perfectly in line with the progressive viewpoint, as the Left is always looking for something new to tax.
This is analogous to the promotion of the Laffer curve by Republicans in 1980s Reaganomics. Lower income tax rates producing higher income tax revenues is not an argument for cutting taxes. Why would a principled conservative want more revenue to go to the government? This would only allow the central government to infringe more in our everyday lives!
The same is true for marijuana. Why is producing tax revenue from marijuana sales a good thing?
Furthermore, the prospect of taxing marijuana akin to alcohol and tobacco is also troubling. A sin tax is essentially telling citizens what behaviors are good and what behaviors are bad. However, the government shouldn’t be in the business of legislating which behaviors are virtuous and which are not so long as there are no externalities. It is the duty of a moral society, not a just government to police morality.
Another similar argument we hear all the times goes something like, “If we legalize, the government can regulate the industry and make the drugs safe.” Just like the taxation argument, this fits very well into the liberal agenda as the left is always looking to regulate as many industries as it can. This too is not a valid conservative or libertarian talking point. Regulation is not always a bad thing, but it’s much better when done privately than when it’s done by the government—especially the federal government.
The online drug marketplace Silk Road illustrated this excellently. It had a feedback system similar to that of eBay in which users would rate and review their purchases. This system has a well-documented history of success. In order to get good reviews and therefore more customers, merchants were forced to provide a product that functions as intended instead of sending fake drugs or rat poison.
Private regulation has been utilized in many industries and has a successful track record. Regulation of the marijuana business would inherently diminish the quality and quantity of products available. When private regulation is possible, it is most always better than the government alternative.
So, the next time the topic of legalization is brought up, stick to the principled argument of consent or the alleged lack of serious health effects. Taxation and regulation are both weak and fallacious arguments which can’t be rectified with free enterprise and limited government.