This article was co-written by Stephen Paunovski, a senior at Hofstra University in New York. 


One of the most common arguments students run into when discussing marijuana legalization is the “gateway drug” argument. The claim is that marijuana use is a stepping stone in the overall use of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine and that keeping marijuana illegal is a needed and just public policy that acts as a hedge against rampant hard drug usage, especially for young adults. Firstly, the validity of this claim must be explored. Secondly, the question of whether marijuana laws are the true gateway to hard drugs, rather then marijuana itself, should be asked. It seems as though the notion of the laws exacerbating the usage of drugs is rarely discussed. Lastly, the SFL blog is a wonderful outlet to brainstorm effective ways to spread the ideas of liberty on college campuses and improve the persuasive ability, and not just the provocativeness, of arguments. We have begun to notice that on our campus  the legalization of marijuana, especially now that we have two state case studies, can be a gateway for people to further understand liberty. Let’s delve into these claims.

Is using marijuana a gateway drug for more drug usage?
The gateway idea has been disproved time and time again. A recent University of New Hampshire study found the gateway effect is “overblown.” The report finds that factors of stress, unemployment status, level of education, and family status lead to harder drug usage and not marijuana use. Lead researcher KarenVan Gundy noted, “Employment in young adulthood can protect people by ‘closing’ the marijuana gateway, so over-criminalizing youth marijuana use might create more serious problems if it interferes with later employment opportunities. This Time Magazine article uncovers some of the fallacies of the gateway argument. Simply, correlation is not causation.

Are marijuana laws and the drug war itself a gateway drug for more drug usage?
By criminalizing the use of marijuana, sales are pushed underground and “regulated” by criminals and gangs. When government makes something illegal it does not simply go away, but it is placed in the hands of criminals to control. Marijuana use is not the gateway to harder drugs, marijuana laws are. Simple possession and/or usage are considered crimes and citizens arrested for marijuana use may see jail time in which they will be hardened by real, violent criminals, and not mere possessors of marijuana. Drug convictions also make getting a job more difficult and hurt opportunities for life post-prison which creates a vicious cycle of use, abuse, addiction, and jail time. This system perpetuates itself by making simple marijuana users legitimate criminals. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, LEAP, is an international organization made up of criminal justice professionals that promote legalization because they believe the drug war exacerbates the problem of drug use.

Is marijuana a gateway for liberty?
With Washington and Colorado legalizing cannabis use, the United States get its first large case study in repealing prohibition. Students will now be able to debate the moral, economic, social, and political benefits of legalizing marijuana and use empirical data from these two states. Marijuana legalization is an issue in which students are winning on their college campuses as young people overwhelmingly support legalization. But this is an issue students must continue to win. By winning students on the issue of marijuana, other relics of state control of the individual begin to fade away. Issues such as gambling laws, prostitution laws, and the federal drinking age are all issues where young people side on the rights of the individual. Students now understand that many decisions in life should remain devoid of government intervention and regulation. Decisions on behavior should come from the individual and not the benevolent hand of the government. Use the issue of marijuana legalization to stimulate discussions on campus regarding human freedom and individual choices. At a minimum, the use of medical marijuana should be placed outside the purview of government and instead placed in the relationship between a doctor and a patient. At a maximum, students will understand how prohibition is harmful and exacerbates the issue of drug use and addiction. Either way, students will find that human freedom is the best way to organize human action and avoid onerous regulation on the autonomous behavior of individuals. As Frederic Bastiat said,The solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in liberty.” Now that two Americans states have led the way in legalization, the discussion of this issue is longer fringe and outside the mainstream. This is a serious public policy issue that must be examined, discussed, and debated in our society and not shunned by the powers that be. The dominoes have begun to fall and the momentum and enthusiasm for legalization must remain fervent.

Polling data from different organizations is showing a clear rise in the support Americans have for marijuana legalization. A survey from last October revealed 62% of 18-29 year olds support marijuana legalization while only 31% of those 65+ show support. Pew Research found that in 1973 that 20% of Americans thought marijuana should be legal. During the 1970s and 80s, the number fluctuated and bottomed out at 16% during Reagan’s heavy push against drug usage. But, support grew again as the number rose to 31% in 2000 and then a a full ten-point jump to 2010 with 41%. The number now is in the range of 45-56 (see here and here). A survey last month found that an unbelievable 7% of Americans think the US is winning the war on drugs. Finally, a poll released just today found 83 percent of those surveyed believe medical marijuana use should be allowed. That is a 21 point rise since 1997!

This is an issue that the politicians are behind. The data above depicts a society that is becoming more and more tolerant of marijuana use. As young people age, prohibition, alongside many other social issues, will fall from the clutches of government and law. Make marijuana legalization a serious issue on your campus; it may lead to a lot more libertarianism than you thought.