Friday, 12 February 2010

Won't somebody think of the children

Key defends his Justice Minister, saying
"No one is probably arguing necessarily that if someone uses a small amount of marijuana that that is necessarily of itself the end of the world," Mr Key said

"But, and I have to acknowledge because its factually correct that a lot of New Zealanders do, but what's the message we want to send youngsters? And the message is don't engage with drugs."
Isn't that nice. Key can feel good about the message we're sending to kids equating law and morality. I don't much like the message, but I'm more worried about the costs of sending it. Here's Nandor Tanczos, from July of last year:
I have a friend who wakes up every morning and wants to vomit. Most of the day he wants to vomit. Food often makes him actually vomit, and he sometimes vomits blood. The doctors have given him some pills for the nausea but they are hard to keep down. There is one very effective inhalant that his specialist has recommended, but he is not allowed to use it.

Another friend is tetraplegic. That's like paraplegic but with all four limbs incapacitated. He lives in constant pain. The doctors gave him morphine and other pain killers, but he won't use them because he becomes like a zombie when he does. He doesn't have much quality of life, as you can imagine, so anything that gives him some is very welcome. He found a herbal remedy that takes the edge off his pain, makes it manageable and gives him some get-up-and-go. Apparently a lot of people with spinal injuries use it, but when my friend grew some the police arrested him and a judge locked him in Mount Eden prison.

The medicine in both these cases is called cannabis. Whatever people think about the recreational use of cannabis, I find it difficult to believe that anyone thinks sick people should suffer needlessly.
I find it difficult to believe too. But you have to think about the message we're sending to the children. It's more important that a few cancer patients get to choose between agony and prison than that the kiddies get the wrong idea about marijuana.

For once, I'm a bit glad of Key's status quo bias. Because if he equates law and morality and worries about the message sent to children, it's only status quo bias keeping him from re-criminalizing prostitution.


  1. Hey Eric,

    Ok, if you don't think in the area of social policy law and morality should be equated, they how are you thinking new laws should be made? Maximising some Betham-ian social utility function or something? Shouldn't laws say something about something being band because 'it is wrong' and leave it up to democracy to change what's considered wrong over time?

  2. Indeed, no one can justify the criminalisation of drugs, morally not if alcohol and cigaretes are legal, scientifically not if the former cause greater damage than many illegal drugs and not from an economic standpoint where law "enforcement" and vandalism by addicts cost society manifold what the consequences of free access could ever cost. Plus "enforcement" keeps prices artificially high thus helping finance terrorism, organised crime and, again tell it to the kids,ecret services... There would be no Cosa Nostra in the US were it not for the prohibition years, no (or less) corrupt states in Latin America or Asia etc.

  3. Personally, I find rotting fruit offensive. However, when I am voted in you can be sure I will not ban them from your fruit bowl.

  4. Regardless of the medical aspect, it is an outrage that we cannot smoke it.

  5. @James: Law should prevent harms being imposed on non-consenting parties. Murder: illegal. Theft: illegal. Bad taste in music: not illegal.

    @Sam: you want to smoke rotting fruit?

  6. Humm.... Law should prevent harm being imposed on non-consenting parties? I'm not even going to flip that around and test the other side: the law shouldn't prevent harm occuring to consenting parties. There's always three points of view in every legal case: the plaintiff's, the respondent's and society's. Something like pornography, and what's considered "illegal" is all about society's point of view. Again with rascism, and even some of the law of contract, like unconscionable contracts / illegal contracts and principles underlying estoppel.

    The law is choca-block full of morals. That's society's way of saying somethings people do - even if they're consenting - sound be smacked on the nose :)

  7. I made an ought statement, not an is statement. But, even as things stand, there are plenty of things that are legal to do that I'd consider immoral, and plenty of things I'd consider moral that are nevertheless illegal. I find it worrying when folks use the "sends a morality message" line about legal issues as it suggests that the set of moral things and the set of legal things coincide always and everywhere. I'd prefer people had their own consciences rather than just reckon that whatever the government lets them do is moral and whatever the government doesn't let them do isn't. Down that road lies tyranny as there's no external measure against which to judge the morality of the government's actions.