Legality and Relativism
The use of marijuana has been illegal for what seems like forever. There has been a debate on whether it should be legal or illegal for quite some time, and the main reason is because some people view marijuana as perfectly acceptable while others find it less than okay. “Most ethical debates revolve around questions where the correct answer isn't always obvious. If it were obvious, of course, there would not be much room for debate.” (Mosser. 2010. Para. 4) Well, marijuana is one ethical issue that could be solved, maybe not easily, but humans can come to some type of agreement about it. Obviously, our governments and our people have looked at this issue from either a utilitarian point of view, but no one seems to have tried virtue ethics or deontology. I believe that utilitarianism should be applied here, as well as virtue ethics and deontology. Virtue ethics, deontology and utilitarianism are going to have to be put together equally to come to a fair agreement about marijuana legalization, and relativism, which “ regards values as determined by one's own ethical standards, often those provided by one's own culture and background. Rather than insisting that there are moral absolutes, moral claims must be interpreted in terms of how they reflect a person's viewpoint; moral claims are then said to be "right in a given culture" or "wrong for a given society,"” (Mosser. 2010. Para. 2) could pose a challenge to all three.
Utilitarianism is the way most of the American government views the debate on marijuana legalization. Utilitarianism is “a natural way to see if an act is the right thing to do (or the wrong thing to do) is to look at its results, or consequences. Utilitarianism argues that, given a set of choices, the act we should choose is that which produces the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice.” (Mosser. 2010. Para. 2) This can be proven by looking at governmental articles on marijuana and the legalization of it. “Marijuana use is harmful and should be discouraged,” (The Administration. 2013. Para. 5) “Legalization would lower price, thereby increasing use,” (The Administration. 2013. Para. 6) “Tax revenue would be offset by higher social costs,” (The Administration. 2013. Para. 7) “Legalization would further burden the criminal justice system,” (The Administration. 2013. Para. 8) “Legalization would do little, if anything, to curb drug violence.” (The Administration. 2013. Para. 9) A lot of the information that is given for these topics is untrue and mostly propaganda. Fortunately for the legalization of marijuana, not all of the American government views marijuana legalization the same and they are seeing through the false information that is being force fed to them. “In the highly charged debate over legalization, many troubling misperceptions have gained currency. It is critical these false assumptions be addressed and clarified using the best evidence available. A careful examination of the facts leads to the following conclusions about the dangers of marijuana use and the likely consequences of legalization.” (The Administration. 2013. Para. 10) They are still trying to view it from a utilitarian point of view but, it is a positive view. “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS -- or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.” (Elders. 2004.) Relativism can pose a small issue with this as some people choose to believe the propaganda that they are presented rather than facts and statistics. The morals and ethics that they have been taught stand in the way of rock solid facts and give way to the emotion and idea that marijuana is an illicit drug, and all illicit drugs are bad and immoral. That is where the use of deontology comes into play.
Deontology is “rather than looking at the consequences of an act, deontology looks at the reason for which an act is done, and the rule according to which one chooses to act. Deontology doesn't deny that acts have consequences; rather, it insists that those consequences should not play a role in our moral evaluation of such acts.” (Mosser. 2010. Para. 11) If someone had a problem with the legalization of marijuana due to the consequences that would stem from it, the argument of reason for use could be presented. This is the way a lot of bills are being presented, from a deontological way of thinking with a utilitarian twist. “Providing for the medical use of marijuana; and repealing provisions of law that prohibit and penalize marijuana use, The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:
Section 1. Short title.
This act shall be known and may be cited as the Governor Raymond Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.
Section 2. Legislative intent.
The General Assembly finds and declares as follows:
(1) Modern medical research has discovered a beneficial use for marijuana in treating or alleviating the pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical
conditions, as found by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine in March 1999.” (Leach, Ferlo, Fontana, Farnese. 2013) “Providing for the medical use of marijuana, The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:
Section 1. Short title.
This act shall be known and may be cited as the Governor Raymond P. Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.
Section 2. Definitions.
The following words and phrases when used in this act shall have the meanings given to them in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
"Bona fide physician-patient relationship." A physician who has completed a full assessment of the patient's medical history and current medical condition, including a personal physical examination..” (Cohen, Viggs, Brown, Costa, Molchany, Mundy, O’Brian, Schlossberg. 2013) Basically, these bills are saying that because marijuana has a medicinal value, it should be considered able to be legal with a prescription. This reasons that people may need the plant in order to help them, rather than focusing on the consequences of what could happen due to marijuana use or legalization. Relativism does play a role in this, even though it really should not. Some people have a view that if it is illegal, and not originally prescribed by a doctor, it is a drug no matter what. These same people will go home and swallow a naproxen to get rid of their arthritis aches or an aspirin to get rid of a headache. They feel that because a doctor says take this prescription even though “People who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (other than aspirin) such as naproxen may have a higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke than people who do not take these medications. These events may happen without warning and may cause death. This risk may be higher for people who take NSAIDs for a long time. Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has or has ever had heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke, if you smoke, and if you have or have ever had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Get emergency medical help right away if you experience any of the following symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness in one part or side of the body, or slurred speech.” (AHFS Consumer Medical Information. 2013. Para. 1) it is okay and better than consuming a “dangerous street drug” like marijuana. Ideals and morals like this lead us to our next portion and way of thinking, virtue ethics.
Virtue ethics is “Rather than focusing on the consequences of the act we wish to evaluate, or the reason or rule that guides the action, we look at the character of the person performing the act. Virtue ethics, thus, seeks to determine not what makes an act good but what makes a person virtuous.” (Mosser. 2010. Para. 21) Virtue ethics hardly play a role in government or the legalization of marijuana, but when deontology and utilitarianism are so much a part of things, should we not look at what kind of people use marijuana on an everyday basis? “ Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States (OAS, 2001b). According to the 2000 NHSDA, an estimated 14.0 million Americans were current (past month) marijuana users (OAS, 2001b). This represents 6.3 percent of people aged 12 or older and 76 percent of current illicit drug users. Of all current illicit drug users, approximately 59 percent used only marijuana, 17 percent used marijuana and another illicit drug, and the remaining 24 percent used only an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past month (OAS, 2001b).” (Gfroerer, Wu, Penne. 2002. Para. 4) As you look at the statistics for this, think about how many people out of the 59 percent who only used marijuana are political figures, doctors, dentists, sports icons, artists or musical legends. Think about how many people, or should I say “upstanding Americans”, are actually honest about illicit drug use. Even a former president, Bill Clinton, has admitted to smoking marijuana, even if he did not inhale. Relativism can support a good fight against virtue ethics, but it should still be considered when making a decision that affects a whole country of people. Humans have a tendency to believe they are inherently better than one another, so, just because one person smokes marijuana, even if they are an upstanding citizen, does not mean that another person feels that they should and that makes them better than the marijuana user. They feel as though they have a higher set of morals and virtues or that they are more virtuous than anyone
who uses marijuana. Although, while some people feel like they are better than marijuana users, others feel like marijuana use is a victimless crime and should not be a criminal offense.
Some people feel like marijuana should be legalized because it does not hurt anyone and poses no threat to society as a whole. They kind of have a virtue ethics/utilitarian view of things. Basically their argument is “if I choose to do something that may harm me, but no one else, should I be prevented from doing so? Or, if two people voluntarily engage in behavior that doesn't seem to harm any others, is there any compelling reason not to allow them to do so? The claim is then made that if there really isn't a victim, then there really isn't a crime.” (Mosser. 2010. Para. 1) This is utilitarian because it looks at the consequences of the users actions on society as a whole. Does marijuana smoking cause harm to others or just the user? It is virtue ethics because it looks at whether the action is acceptable because it does not damage society, just the user. Is marijuana smoking alright because it does not cause harm to anyone but the user? I feel like these questions should be viewed very closely when deciding on whether marijuana should be legal for any kind of use. I also feel there are several other things that need to be fully examined and properly tested before all of our questions can be fully answered about marijuana. The fact it is, because marijuana is illegal and deemed wrong by society, it has been hard to fully test the plant. People do not want to admit that they are users or be included in any marijuana testing because they fear the consequences. The American Cancer Society even admitted that marijuana and its effects have not been properly tested. “This substance may not have been thoroughly tested to find out how it interacts with medicines, foods, herbs, or supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.” (American Cancer Society. 2012. Para. 30) Ask yourself, how is it morally correct to deem a plant dangerous and illegal if you do not even know if it is harmful or helpful?
A lot of Americans, because marijuana is viewed as wrong and illegal, feel like our government should be allowed to invade personal privacy and watch everyone, especially marijuana users. They feel that marijuana is a gateway drug and it leads to other drugs and increased crime rates, which is a threat and danger to society therefore, it is our government’s right to protect us however they see fit. None of these assumptions have been fully proven or disproven. These people feel that marijuana is morally devoid but it is acceptable for others to invade personal privacy? I do not accept this and neither should anyone else. If a voyeur was watching and recording every move you made you would call the police and demand him caught. Once caught you would immediately demand the footage. What you do not know is that the police have a right to keep the footage as evidence and view it as many times as they want to as long as they are trying to make a case. Why is it any different or more ethical for our government to watch us than a simple criminal?
Virtue ethics, deontology and utilitarianism are going to have to be put together equally to come to a fair agreement about marijuana legalization, and relativism could pose a challenge to all three. My view on the whole issue is that marijuana should in fact be legal, and I could come up with several different debates against relativists theories on marijuana and its legalization. However, no matter what anyone says, there will always be people who view it as wrong and others who view it as perfectly acceptable, what matters is who outnumbers who. The more people that deem marijuana use as okay, the more chance it has of becoming legal.
Steve Cohen Advocates for Medical Marijuana in Congress
American Cancer Society. 2012. Marijuana. Retrieved from:
Briggs, Brown, V., Cohen, Costa, Molchany, Mundy, O’Brian & Schlossberg. 2013. House Bill 1181. The General Assembly of Pennsylvania: House Bill. Retrieved from:
Elders, J. MD. 2004. Top Ten Pros and Cons: Should Medical Marijuana Be a Medical Option? Retrieved from:
Farnese, Ferlo, Fontana & Leach. 2013. Senate Bill 770. The General Assembly of Pennsylvania: Senate Bill. Retrieved from:
Gfroerer, J. C., Wu, L.-T., & Penne, M. A. (2002). Initiation of Marijuana Use: Trends,
Patterns, and Implications (Analytic Series: A-17, DHHS Publication No. SMA
02-3711). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
Office of Applied Studies.
Mosser, K., (2010). Introduction to Ethics and Social Responsibility. Bridgepoint Education Inc. Retrieved from:
The Administration. Office of National Drug Control Policy. 2013. Marijuana Legalization. Retrieved from:
US Rep @ Pot Hearing
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© 2015 Kelly Miller
Mark Johann from New Zealand on February 09, 2015:
This is interesting. MJ is safer than of a peanut. Wow! MJ turns our mind crazy but a medicine.