In this paper, I will consider whether the recreational use of marijuana is morally justified from the perspective of the utilitarianism theory. Due to the growing public concern over the scandal issue of marijuana legalization, it remains a highly uncertain issue seeking final and firm answer like the one what was the first to come, a hen or an egg. Marijuana legalization is primarily justified by utilitarianism theory that proved to be efficient and supports most of the aspects of cannabis legalization. However, this theory cannot provide strong and persuading evidence to the full extent to convince the passionate challengers of legal cannabis and leave them no chance to be able to find more counterarguments to marijuana usage and legalization. Although the base point of utilitarianism if applied to making marijuana legal provides strong support for the marijuana users, still in some perspectives they may be interpreted as be vague and doubtful, encountering various objections.
The Utilitarianism Theory
As for the utilitarianism theory, its positioning is quite simple and allows a person to commit any actions as long as they do not result in harm and pain. Utilitarianism is a type of the consequentialism theory that states that the action is morally right or wrong respective of its consequences (Driver 2009). In utilitarianism, happiness is considered to be the only thing that has moral value. Happiness is defined as a state of pleasure without pain, and unhappiness is an opposite condition. This approach considers not only individual good and welfare, but the public one as well. That is according to this theory one should also take care about the good of the neighbor and his or her well-being.
The theory of utilitarianism perfectly applies to the issue of marijuana legalization, since generally it is able to justify marijuana usage and support the adherents of cannabis legalization. A known philosopher of the utilitarianism movement John Stuart Mill claimed that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Yearley 2010). In the interpretation of the utilitarianism theory, a person’s desire to smoke marijuana is not immoral and is right if in result, he or she receives the expected effect and causes no harm to herself or others. In this case, marijuana usage cannot be viewed as immoral. From this prospective, smoking of marijuana is right, because it promotes happiness. The smoker becomes pleased, relaxed and happy, that is why marijuana is called a recreational one and ultimately is not intended to cause any harm.
However, we should not omit such a significant counterargument to marijuana usage as the eventual harm of smoking. On one hand, inhaling tobacco is considered to be a reason for emphysema or even cancer (Wilson 298). In this perspective, according to utilitarianism, smoking cannabis becomes wrong, because eventually in the future, it will cause pain to the smoker. In this sense, utilitarian idea argues against legalization of marijuana. Moreover, marijuana itself has negative effects such as influence on brain cells. Marijuana use alters the brain and its development. Scientists stick to the point that early cannabis use may result in psychotic diseases late in life (Tyup 2013).
It is also stated that daily smoking of marijuana shows the pre-cancerous changes in brain at the cellular level. Of course, there are many other potential harms of marijuana usage, however, they all are caused by either heavy usage or abuse. On the other hand, the practice of using marijuana for medical treatment is becoming more popular nowadays. Consistently, what brings good can do no harm if not overused. So, if the idea of the future perspective is deliberately ignored, then legalization of marijuana is justified by the satisfaction a smoker gets from the process of smoking and is completely right. Consequently, since legalization of cannabis will lead to easier access on the legal market, more people will be able to use it and be happy, thus, legal marijuana is not immoral and is right.
The theory of utilitarianism can even be applied to the debate about legalization of cannabis in the modern world and in a historical aspect. Modern society is in a deep concern about the issue of marijuana legalization for recreational use, ad there is a long and thoughtful discussion whether recreational cannabis should be established as legal or not. Since historically, the utilitarians have been social reformers, their position concerning the social matters and their mission directly applies to the issue of marijuana legalization. That is, since the conservative society all over the world is against the legalization, the utilitarianism followers can enlighten the people with in their approach and settle it in modern life like they did back in the 18th century.
However, a perfect combination between the idea of marijuana legalization and utilitarianism theory can be broken by a few general objections. Usage of marijuana is seen as an extremely harmful for health and mental abilities (as this refers to harms, this is a utilitarian argument). Since legalization will grant full access to the drug for everyone, more people will smoke it and worsen their physical and mental health condition.
(break) Logically, legalization can be seen as a deeply unethical issue. This argument definitely suffers from some serious limitations. Usage of marijuana is a free choice of a person and legalization does not imply enforcing the usage of cannabis in every home and office. The sales will be held in special shops or drugstores in limited amounts and will be strictly controlled by the government, so people will not be able to purchase enormous volumes of marijuana to abuse it and impair their health. Moreover, in order for everyone to rush for the shops to buy legal marijuana, it has to be very cheap. However, the prices for recreational cannabis are supposed to be quite high, so it will not be affordable goods for everyone. Consequently, it is irrelevant to state that legalization of cannabis will lead to rapid and massive decline of health problems in the society. (good, also, you can make the analogy with alcohol, which is prohibited in some countries)
One may also object to the legalization issue claiming that marijuana usage will draw more criminal elements in the society, while drugs are always associated with crimes (this is also a harm related argument, and should be explicitly treated as such). However, marijuana involves much more crimes by being illegal (Levinson 2003). Indeed, prevention stimulates much more cases of illegal issues such as storage or sales of this drug with some individuals turning into violence in their attempts to grow, keep, sell, or fight for the drugs. Eventually, keeping marijuana illegal leads to maintaining much harm to people, thus in terms of utilitarianism, prevention can be considered unethical.
There is a violent debate between legislators and lawyers, scientists and doctors, religious organizations and marijuana users if marijuana should be legalized or not, all of them applying various arguments and theories to defend their positions. From perspective of the utilitarianism theory, legalization of cannabis is more likely to be treated as an ethical matter. According to the utilitarianism theory, legalization of cannabis is completely justified in sense that it produces good for the smoker. Moreover, prevention of drugs causes even more harm to society in general than its legalization. Indeed, illegal drugs lead to high crime rates, since people are charged for keeping and selling marijuana due to the existing demand. Utilitarianism theory may be interpreted in a way that damages the morality of marijuana legalization; however, these arguments are not sufficient enough to overweight the justification of legal cannabis. Despite arising common and theoretically based objections to the utilitarianism approach, it is able to withstand the claims of egoism promotion, short sightedness, decline of health condition, or increase of crime rate.