Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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September 30th, 2010

Does the Economy Shape our Morals?


economy-shapes-morals-flashI totally missed when it came out a few months back… and in case you, did, too, check out this Economix blog about whether the bad economy might reshape our collective morality.

My colleague Jesse McKinley has a fascinating article today about how legal-marijuana advocates are promoting the fiscal virtues of their cause. Not coincidentally, another banned substance was legalized in the wake of major economic upheaval: alcohol, during the Great Depression. The “Noble Experiment” known as Prohibition ended in 1933, when a legalized alcohol market promised more job opportunities and additional sales tax revenues for governments under stress.

I’m curious how much today’s economic pressures will eventually reshape Americans’ thinking on other “social issues.” After all, many states desperate for revenue have already started expanding state-sanctioned gambling, whose perceived sinfulness no longer appears to outweigh its fiscal usefulness.

But what’s weird to me is that legalizing pot has become a moral issue. Yes, self-harm is immoral. And if getting high makes you unable to uphold your responsibilities, that’s not good either. But for the vast majority of pot smokers, we’re not in either territory.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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  • Jason

    I have been an advocate for reform in this area for quite some time now (and by advocate, I just mean I think it’s a good idea). I do agree that using marijuana has a certain moral component to it, as do alcohol, cigarettes, or really any substance known to cause the body harm with long-term and/or regular use (I’m looking at you, processed foods). However, just as with the above-listed substances, I think it can be used responsibly. And, not only does it behoove us economically to ease our laws banning it’s use, I think we are quite the hypocrites for those bans.

    Let me get this out there though: I don’t smoke pot. Even if it were legalized, I’m not so sure I would. As a teenager, I did indulge in recreational marijuana use, and to be honest, never really cared for it all that much. Truth be told, I liked to just have a couple of “hits” to relax me, more than getting “ripping high”. In response to the above post from Kim, I can tell you with my own experience that while I would never suggest that anyone who has smoked marijuana in the last hour or so should operate heavy machinery or care for children, depending on your tolerance level one could absolutely be a relatively high functioning individual. Just as with alcohol, it’s a matter of the individual knowing their limits, and being responsible about those limits.

    Speaking of alcohol, this is what gets me fired up. So far as I understand, both substances (marijuana and alcohol) are potentially harmful to the body in numerous ways, particularly with long-term use; again, both should really only be used in moderation and with great care to ensure nothing irresponsible is occurring during those times. However, so far as I understand it, there is no conclusive evidence that habitual use of marijuana can lead to physical dependence. Granted, that doesn’t mean someone can’t develop a habit of use that makes it difficult for the individual to stop smoking. However, alcohol, on the other hand, can lead to a strong physical dependence, making it that much more difficult to quit once someone has reached that level. This is where I really take issue. Granted, my knowledge of the subject stems mostly from personal experience, and a little bit of perusing I have done online, but personally speaking I think it is a bit hypocritical for alcohol to be so acceptable while marijuana gets a bad rap. What people do to their own bodies, while it can be tragic, to me is not the most pressing concern (note: I have heard of marijuana use resulting in infertility, but so does drinking Mountain Dew, apparently…I can’t find substantial evidence to support either of these claims). The more pressing concern to me is how the use of these drugs effects those close to the drug user. I have seen long-term marijuana users stop their use for various reasons (they have (healthy) children, they are applying for jobs in government, etc.); they are cranky for the first week or so, but otherwise don’t appear to have any other problems. Alcoholism, on the other hand, is brutal to both the individual suffering from the addiction, as well as the person’s loved ones. Again, I’m not saying that either addiction is good or healthy, but am suggesting the legalization of marijuana would not create problems that don’t already exist.

    If anything, it may help to curb some issues. Not only could legalization potentially stimulate economic growth (something that may be necessary, but is really low on my list of “reasons to…”), it could help to decrease drug trafficking and violence/crimes related to said trafficking; the government could control the potency of the drug, thus making it safer and more controlled; it could save tax dollars by cutting down on the costs of criminal investigations and incarcerations in marijuana-related crimes.

    Who is to say that any of this would actually happen? We can all make our predictions, but ultimately there will always be some unforeseen costs/benefits. But I do ask this: could it harm our society as a whole any more than the current status quo?

  • Kim

    I understand why alcohol is legal. It is possible to drink an alcoholic beverage and not become drunk or tipsy. The enjoyment of alcoholic beverages is not solely in the effects of getting “high” on it…the flavor can be enjoyable in and of itself. But is it possible to smoke marijuana in such a small amount so as not to make you immediately “high”? And if there were, what would be the enjoyment? Why not simply use tobacco if you must smoke?

    For those that would choose to use to excess, alcohol damages mainly the user physically (with the exception of those who harm others because they are under the influence). Marijuana has been proven to damage the egg and sperm cells of the user. Do we have the right to harm our unborn children even before they are conceived? (Although this could be compared to mothers who drink during pregnancy, it is not at all the same. Pregnant mothers who drink do so knowing it could harm the baby. Marijuana users play russian roulette with thier unconceived children.)

    Using any drug, legal or illegal, is always a moral issue. If it cannot be used responsibly (in a manner that cannot hurt the person using it or others), then it shouldn’t be legal. There is no way to use marijuana responsibly since it harms the reproductive cells of the body.

    Legalizing marijuana should be an issue that goes hand in hand with abortion. When society as a whole quits caring about the unborn, the people in that society will soon quit caring about each other.

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