Not all religious conservatives are likely to lament the success of Colorado and Washington’s referenda legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. The noted English Catholic philosopher Peter Geach, for example, offered a Thomistic defense of toking in his book The   Virtues :

We ought, I think, to judge about cannabis indica as much as we judge about alcohol; and cannabis indica appears to be less mentally disturbing than alcohol, less productive of damaging accidents like car crashes, and very much less addictive. The allegation that use of it ‘leads on’ to the use of dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin is complete nonsense.

In 2001, this publication ran an article conceding Geach’s point about harm but insisting that was not the whole story. “Marijuana does not lead to physical harm,” its author argued, “But it does produce a pathology of the soul”:
While most people believe that pleasure is a good thing, they also categorize and rank its different types. Some pleasures are subtle, others are intense. Some are best experienced alone, others can be enjoyed only in community. Some are base, others noble. Some are purely physical, while others are inextricably bound up with our higher powers. And then there are those most fulfilling pleasures—the ones that follow from the completion of the highest human endeavors. The late Allan Bloom noted the occasions that tend to elicit such feelings: “victory in a just war, consummated love, artistic creation, religious devotion, and the discovery of truth.”

The pleasure of smoking marijuana differs from the kind of pleasure that accompanies smoking a fine cigar or sipping a well-brewed cup of coffee, and more pertinently, it also differs from the pleasure of mild drunkenness. Whereas alcohol primarily diminishes one’s inhibitions and clarity of thought, marijuana inspires a euphoria that resembles nothing so much as the pleasure that normally arises only in response to the accomplish­ ment of the noblest human deeds. Marijuana, like the designer drug Ecstasy, whose legalization Sullivan also, revealingly, supports, provides its users with a means to enjoy the rewards of excellence without possessing it themselves. Bloom again: “Without effort, without talent, without virtue, without exercise of the faculties, anyone and everyone is accorded the equal right to the enjoyment of their fruits.”


In terms of reforming our drug law, I have somewhat less interest in legalizing more recreational outlets for young bourgeoisie than in finding ways to lock up fewer young black men. The two may go hand-in-hand, but they need not.

h/t David Pederson

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