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A reader writes:

In defending the legalization of pot, you rely very heavily on an appeal to nature: "My view - regardless of the arguments back and forth about the effects of marijuana - is simply that it is absurd for any government to prevent people from growing a naturally-occurring plant that requires no processing to provide humans with pleasure."

What does it matter whether or not marijuana is naturally-occurring?

It seems to me that what matters here is the drug's effect on individuals and society, not the purely accidental fact that the drug happens to come from a plant. If marijuana were made in a factory, would you be less in favor of its legalization? Suppose a method was discovered for efficiently producing THC in a lab - should this "synthetic pot" be any less legal than the grows-in-the-ground variety? Why? Or suppose that crack cocaine grew straight out of the ground - would this count as a reason to favor its legality? Or suppose a hypothetical plant that caused people to punch other people in the face. Would the fact that it's naturally occurring make you any more or less inclined to outlaw this plant?

My point, of course, is that the controlling issues in any drug debate are the pleasures and harms caused by the drug - not where the drug originates or how it's produced.

Another writes:

While I support the legalization of MJ, I wonder if you also think this applies to coca plants and opium poppies.  You can chew the leaves of coca plants directly for a buzz - should that be legal to grow?  Opium poppies need processing to produce opiates.  Does it make sense to legalize them and simply make the processing of them illegal?

The case for legalization rests on much firmer ground than the fact that this substance grows naturally. But I do find it interesting when a government tries to ban a resilient, naturally occurring weed that can grow in gardens - just because it can provide pleasure to human beings. And the fact that we have to come up with weird analogies - a plant that caused people to punch others in the face! - reinforces this point. And we do not ban poppies in America, even though some could be processed for opium. We do not ban poisonous mushrooms. We do not ban poison ivy, or inflict legal penalties for those who have it in their yards. I don't know of many crops, like hemp, that are also banned, even though their uses are manifold and were once integral to the US economy.

And yes, I do think that banning certain industrial or chemical procedures that try to turn naturally occurring substances into something more potent is the same thing as banning nature itself. There's something poetic about government's absurd over-reach when it reaches down to the very earth and declares itself master.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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