A reader writes:

You have argued passionately the case for marijuana legalization (which I agree with), but it made me think of your arguments for the health insurance bill; it's a similar case (individual freedoms vs. collective good) but you argued exactly the opposite case (essentially: the benefits of forcing people to buy health insurance provide enough societal good to outweigh the rights of the individual to not be insured).

I'd be interested in why you view this issue differently than other issues, and where you see the line drawn in which personal freedom should be constrained in the interest of the collective concerns/needs.

First off, we already guarantee emergency room healthcare for those who choose not to be treated or to get insurance. It seems to me that once you have conceded that principle, and are not going to let people die hideous or long deaths alone or in the streets, then the collective costs clearly authorize a collective solution that would be more humane and cheaper.

I suppose someone who smokes pot might, in a haze, drive a car and crash; or fail to show up at work regularly; but Prop 19 made stoned driving and working illegal; I cannot see anything like the collateral costs of lacking all health insurance. Another writes:

Look, I'm with you on pot legalization, but as for how we approach legislating plants, what we do with pot isn't actually all that unusual. I've lived in Georgia for almost two decades, and we have this plant called Kudzu, the Plant That Ate The South. Most people are probably familiar with it, and as I understand it, it is illegal to intentionally grow it or to allow it to grow wild on your property. Because it spreads and devours.

I read an article yesterday about something called the Tonka Bean, apparently all the culinary rage out west, but I hadn't heard of it. It's illegal in the US because it contains a compound that has been shown to cause liver damage in rats. But tasty -- like a vanilla caramel mouthgasm! Or so the article suggested. Some distributors have been busted for supplying it to restaurants. Ackee is a Jamaican fruit tree producing this awesome, potato-like fruit (but with some tang to it -- it's really quite good). Cultivation is restricted in the US because the unripe fruit is toxic. I can only find it imported, at about $8 a can, but talk about a pleasure-inducing plant.

All I'm saying is, pot's not the only plant we regulate. Not even close. And it's not the only plant we ban. And it's certainly not the only plant we derive pleasure from and which we've created laws against.

I've been unable to find any online sunstantiation that kudzu is actually illegal in some states, rather than an invasive species, with some great medicinal properties. I don't think very toxic plants or beans are an applicable case, or we'd have a war on nutmeg.

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