Years ago, before marijuana legalization started to really gather momentum, many converts to the idea of legalization put forth the notion that we should legalize it and “tax the shit out of it.” They figured that they could rationalize the switch from opposition to legalization by negotiating a compromise of sorts, by applying the sin tax idea that’s been applied to tobacco and alcohol.

This notion seems born of the straw man idea that illegal pot doesn’t already impose massive costs on society. It ignores the cost savings from enforcement, adjudication, incarceration, and border control, as well as ignoring the financial benefit of keeping all that pot money in the legitimate economy, instead of it being piled up storage rooms and/or funding Latin American drug cartels.

It also ignores the reality that imposing a massive market distortion in the form of heavy taxation opens the door for criminal activity to continue, as demonstrated by the fact that New York’s heavy tobacco taxes drive a black market that results in 60% of cigarettes sold in NYCity being either smuggled or counterfeit.

Today, though, we bear witness to a different sort of problem arising from mis-legalization of pot. The story, out of Utah, involves a challenge to a medical marijuana (MM) legislation. The problem arises from a provision in the initiative that would debar landlord from discriminating against potential tenants who used MM. A landlord is challenging the legislation, asserting that it would be a violation of his religious and free-expression rights to be forced to rent to MM users.

I imagine that the plaintiff feels emboldened by the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision, which found a religious freedom exception to the public accommodation principle that debars providers of goods and services to the public from discriminating against protected groups. Whether MM users qualify as a “protected group” will ultimately be a question for the courts, and I expect that there will be an American Disability Act argument claiming so.

The real problem, however, lies deeper. It is born of infringements on basic liberty, in this case the right of a property owner to do as he pleases with that which he owns. A landlord should be able to refuse to rent to anyone he wishes not to. That’s not remotely the case nowadays, as there are mountains of regulations to the contrary, and the law is stacked heavily in favor of tenants. I’d be spitting in the wind were I to attempt to argue back this mountain, because too many people have grown accustomed to the idea that landlords only get to rent out their property by the good graces of the government, and that people have a “right” to rent an apartment from someone else. This is what we get when we stack government imposition upon government imposition, and this mindset is what led to the inclusion of the controversial language in the Utah MM initiative.

Some might be inclined to point out a precedent in the lack of protection for tobacco smoking tenants, but remember, this is about medical marijuana, which would presumably be prescribed by a doctor and therefore considered medically necessary or beneficial, and therefore not simply a choice. Were Utah to simply legalize pot, the matter would very likely pop up again in the courts down the road, but the legalization would not be derailed preemptively by such an argument.

By pursuing a half-measure (MM instead of full legalization), Utah’s legalization advocates get it wrong, create new problems, and open the door for yet another “entitlement” to go on the books. We need fewer of those, and more real freedom, if we are to undo the giant pile of troubles caused by the utterly futile War on Drugs.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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