Mill on Marijuana

Having attended a small high school in a small town, hearing about a fellow student experimenting with marijuana was always so controversial. First, the entire school found out and then it quickly escalated to parents, teachers, and coaches, and was “the talk of the town.”  Coming to the University of Michigan, a very liberal college, seeing the nonchalant talk and shameless usage of marijuana was a bit of a culture shock. It has changed my view of marijuana and I have come to the point where I don’t see any reason for not legalizing it. 

Marijuana the plant (via Flickr)

Since the 20th century, cannabis, or marijuana, has been the most widely used illegal drug in the United States. It was made illegal with the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which made its production illegal in all 50 states. Since then, the controversy has only grown. In 2012, Washington became the first state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, and since then Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska have followed suit. As of today, marijuana is legal in some form in almost half of the states of the US.

Protestors demonstrate how marijuana users should not be classified as “criminals.” (via Flickr)

Despite the public’s rising acceptance rate of legalizing marijuana, the political debate is still continuing fiercely and for many states, a final decision has yet to be made. Some politicians believe that the drug is unhealthy, therefore it should be criminalized without a question. Other politicians view the recreational use as an act only harmful to the individual, therefore the allowance of the act should be determined by said individual. John Stewart Mill would agree with the latter argument.

Mill would be an advocate of the legalization of marijuana. In his literary work, On Liberty, he famously says:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of the community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Mill is saying that as long you are not harming someone else, you should be free to pursue your individual interests. Mill would support the legalization of cannabis because smoking pot essentially only harms the individual; recreational use of the drug does not infringe on the rights of anyone else. He would also argue that an incredible amount of information about cannabis is made widely available to all, therefore we as individuals have the capability to make an informed decision to use the drug or not. However, he would argue that youth shouldn’t be allowed to use the drug. Youth aren’t capable of making informed decisions and completely understanding the consequences of their actions.  Therefore, they shouldn’t be able make the decision for themselves until they’re older.

Individuals protest for their individual rights (via Wikipedia Commons)

If Mill were a politician today, he would definitely vouch for the legalization of marijuana.  I believe that many modern politicians look to Mill’s theories when arguing for this policy change.


3 thoughts on “Mill on Marijuana

  1. I really like this post as I feel you encompass all angles of Mill’s argument. When I first arrived on campus, I too felt a bit of a culture shock in how free-spirited everyone was in terms of using Marijuana. Mill’s ideology definitely is applicable to this debate as he feels the individual has the ability to make a choice whether or not to harm himself/herself. As long as the choice someone makes does not harm others, they should be allowed to do as they please. That being said, when people get high from smoking marijuana their judgement is impaired which in turn could cause harm to others. Overall, I really enjoyed your perspective on Mill and what his thoughts would be on smoking marijuana.


  2. I enjoyed reading this article because it’s such a well educated argument about such a controversial topic. You hit Mill’s tone to the argument dead on. Though I do think there could have been a little more room left for counter arguments. Like someone could say that smoking marijuana could have a negative effect on the brain and some cognitive functions, so if a teacher smoked pot during his/her recreational time it would still effect them on the job. But that’s only for extremely cynical individuals! Overall it was a great argument including Mill’s prospective as well!


  3. I think you wrote a very interesting post on a very hot topic around the country today. I disagree with your notion that Mill would support its legalization. I think it is a stretch to say that marijuana only harms the individual. A case could be made that that the actions one exhibits while under the influence of marijuana can and do harm others. While one may not harm somebody else’s lungs or deplete their brain cells as a result of marijuana use, their actions under the drug can cause harm. For example, if somebody under the influence of marijuana were to get in a car and crash into another causing somebody else to get injured it is harmful. Slowed reaction times in general can cause harm to others as a result of your actions. While marijuana may seem to only harm the individual it has the potential to harm others, and in those instances Mill would say the recreational use of marijuana is bad.


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