Perspectives: Colorado pot law, vices are not crimes

OPINION – Which one of these best represents the kind of society where you’d choose to live?

One society entrusts freedom and liberty to the individual while still holding each person accountable for any actions that measurably harm another person or their property. If a person’s peaceable choices do not directly and negatively impact others, then those choices are considered beyond the reach of public laws.

The other society operates in a preventive mode in which draconian laws are enacted out of fear of what people might do rather than what they have actually done to harm another. Overwhelming force is used even against suspected violators whose actions are nonviolent. People are threatened and punished, not for actual harm done, but ‘for their own good.’

Seems like a pretty clear-cut choice, right?

Now consider two actual events that illustrate just how easily we can be wooed away from our freedoms.

Two years ago, armed agents of the state forced their way into Matthew Stewart’s Ogden home to determine if he was growing marijuana. When their raid was over, one officer was dead and four others had been seriously wounded along with Stewart.

Stewart later hung himself in his cell while awaiting trial on murder charges.

A few days ago, Colorado stopped treating the use of marijuana as a criminal offense. Adults in Colorado can now legally purchase, possess and use the same plant for which Utah was willing to use deadly force to stop Matthew Stewart from growing.

What authorities in one state are willing to initiate violence over is now a matter of personal choice for the people of another state. If pressed on the issue, it’s a pretty safe bet that many people would still say Colorado is the state that’s in the wrong. Their opposition to marijuana use has clouded their ability to acknowledge government’s proper limits.

Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that vices are not the same thing as crimes.

A thought provoking read on this subject is 19th Century writer Lysander Spooner’s essay “Vices Are Not Crimes.”

Spooner describes vices as, “those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.” He notes that most vices can be accurately described as “the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness.” Even though they may be correctly regarded as mistakes, there is no element of criminal intent toward others.

Crimes, on the other hand, include malice, which Spooner identifies as the very essence of a crime, “that is, the design to injure the person or property of another.”

The danger that arises when we allow vices to be treated as crimes has far-reaching effects as Spooner explains:

Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.

This is where we get to the heart of the matter. The greatest support for treating vices as crimes nearly always stems from the desire to control others.

But once we cross the line where we believe that the state has the right to dictate to others what peaceable choices they can or cannot make, all bets are off. What starts today, as the state dictating what others may or may not put into their bodies, can easily become the state telling all of us what we must do, think, or teach our children.

Writer Lawrence Vance offers a solid comparison of the difference between a free society and one that is not:

In a free society the individual makes his own decisions about his health and lifestyle; in an authoritarian society the state thinks it knows best how to make those decisions.

Sadly, there is a bit of tyrant in each of us that must be rooted out if freedom is to flourish.

When I walk by the beer cooler in the grocery store or drive by a state liquor store, I don’t waste time seething over the fact that such intoxicants are legally available. Instead, I focus my attention on what I’m doing to wisely use my own freedom.

Peaceful choices by others that do not cause harm to me or my property are simply none of my business.

Those who are upset over Colorado’s new pot law may want to try a similar approach.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.


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  • JAR January 6, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Bryan, ‘stirrer of the (pot)’, you delivered an excellent article again. Thanks.
    However, It won’t be long before the ‘Save The Planet’ goons will be marching in protest around your office (lawfully with a permit), holding signs that state: How dare you put a plug in for freedom without first donating to our cause to gain our approval. (hum, why is it you seem to deliver your best perspectives on monday mornings?.

  • Barry Short January 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Meanwhile, the Supreme Court issued a stay while Utah appeals peaceful behavior between sovereign individuals.

    • Patti January 6, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      My thoughts exactly @Barry..

  • Sweet Jude January 6, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    No, actually Bryan Hyde, the law basically boils down to morals. Whether you believe in upholding decency and rightness depends on how lenient or strict your perspective is on the issues. Now I know you have children – maybe at a certain point when they let all their passions go free will you realize the great negligence you used when you let all hell break loose as you carelessly turned a blind eye at will. True freedom rests upon obedience to correct principles. Unfortunately, you are blinded by the craftiness of men’s and women’s ignorance.

    • Bryan Hyde January 6, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      Do you honestly believe that obedience to morals and decency can only be realized at the point of a gun? Even the Almighty allows us to freely make our own choices and suffer the rewards or consequences of them.
      Or do you prefer the approach of forcing others to do what is right?

      • Sweet Jude January 7, 2014 at 1:33 pm

        Yes, Bryan Hyde, the Almighty lets us choose…but that has never excused man for his Supreme Ignorance.

    • Matthew Sevald January 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Sweet Jesus, sweet jude,
      Whose morals? Whose definition of “decency and rightness” and “correct principles”? How high and mighty are those who would dictate to others. Perhaps such people should remove the post from their own eye before telling another to remove the splinter from theirs. In reality, those who seek to control others are most often doing so because they have screwed up their own lives and either wish to live vicariously through others or seek to bring others down to share in their misery.
      Taking a look around at the local Mormon “moral” majority, I see both adult and child depression, suicide, prescription drug abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia on a daily basis. The common factor in all this? Ridiculous social pressure from completely fabricated religious dogma being shoved down the throats of people to be accepted unquestioningly lest they be shunned by their families and cast into “outer darkness” in an imaginary version of the afterlife. In layman’s terms: “laws” that are unjust, unnecessary, and debilitating imposed on the public by a select few who view themselves as morally superior, as if they had a monopoly on proper living. That’s right, most of the societal ills here in southern utah come from the cult of Mormonism’s stranglehold on limiting and scapegoating personal freedom.
      Are those the “morals” and “decency and rightness” and “correct principles” you advocate? You can keep your narrow world view and belief that people are incapable of living a “good” life so long as it is different than the hocus pocus you’ve been taught is the one and only appropriate life path. Keep your koolaid and give me my freedom to choose how I would act when not affecting anyone outside myself.
      Medice, cura te ipsum

      • JamesB January 6, 2014 at 2:49 pm

        Wow Mathew, sounds like you have a large chip on your shoulder. You should try relaxing a bit . I’m a Mormon and I don’t have a “stranglehold” on anyone. I don’t know any Mormons that have a “stranglehold” on anyone. As far as I am concerned you can live your life as you please and I won’t call you any names. Allow me to do the same. Also, maybe look up the definition of words like scapegoat before throwing them into your writings to make sure you are using them correctly.

        • Matthew Sevald January 6, 2014 at 3:38 pm

          Call it a chip if that helps you feel better about willfully keeping your head in the sand. Those of us not in denial call it speaking the truth.

          Scapegoating (from the verb “to scapegoat”) is the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment or blame as a scapegoat
          True free choice is absolutely abhorred by the Mormon cult organization as well as all those who also wish to impose their way of life on others. “If only the druggies/homsexuals/sinners/problem people did things ‘this/my’ way instead of ‘their’ way, then all would be right with the world.”
          For the statist, and all who would impose their singular version of morality as law, the problem to overcome is the ability for people to make decisions on their own. Enter draconian laws and punishments (social/criminal) to demonize those who voice opinions and won’t be bullied. Enter groupthink. Scapegoating was the correct choice.

          • JamesB January 6, 2014 at 5:08 pm

            Matthew. Where do you get your information on the Mormon church? You are hilarious.

          • JAR January 6, 2014 at 5:21 pm

            Matthew, me think you should go back and reread the article. Then come back and restate what freedoms you like and those you want to disallow to your neighbors.

    • sam January 10, 2014 at 6:58 am

      Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
      -C.S. Lewis.

  • Crazydoglady January 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks Bryan, a very thought-provoking article. I especially enjoy the debate it spirs. I agree the author you quote in your article. I believe we should be able to exercise our choices as long as they do not harm anyone else. I was born and raised in Colorado and would go back if it didn’t snow there. I wish the majority of people in Utah had the liberal views of those in Colorado and “the church” would but out of governing this state!

    • Patti January 6, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      @crazydoglady I can’t agree more!

  • Patti January 6, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    @Matthew.. You are spot on.

  • t January 6, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Hey Brian, I like it here, so I live here. Maybe you should move to Colorado.

    • Steve D January 7, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Just because your house floods with a backed up sewer line, doesn’t mean you up and move to Colorado.

      You fix the problem and in this analogy the problem fixes it’s self. As the forefront of our prohibition supporters become heavy under the wait of time and arthritis and the tole that their Celebrex takes on their levers starts showing on their skin – it will only take a few old raisins on the communication grape vine to find out that there is a medication that will relieve their pain, lower their blood pressure, restore their livers, and is now thought to fight cancer by real institutes of science and medicine. Then when they realize that it’s safe, doesn’t change the rate of prolonged minority eye contact, and doesn’t constantly dull the senses, these old rusty pipes will fix themselves. Especially when they see how the economic advantage cultivated in the changeover from prohibition to decriminalization is in the favor of our hard working Utahn farmers at the expense of their drug-lords and criminals – and everyone’s lawyers – win, win.

  • Roy J January 6, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    The spirit of Cynicism will not be trifled with! If you rouse Diogenes, you will regret it.

  • Steve D January 7, 2014 at 8:49 am

    When we look at accomplishments alone, Mr. Hyde is probably the one voice of reason here, not trying to kiss butt but he’s done some good things, and I for one respect his opinions.

    I have a lot to say about the matter but my only experience here with this topic, not a user of weed or real drugs, is my 4 year old son, I’m a fool to pretend that I can watch him 24 hours a day, Sweet jude, when he is a teenager, I know that whatever he tells me about where he’s been and with who, will be highly questionable, if he is anything like me… So what can I use to determine the likely hood of him getting involved with something like pot? I can use drug prevention agencies’ own stats, statistics that are now saying that as many as 60% of teenagers are going to try it here in Utah, but who uses real research or science to form their opinions anymore? So shelter your kids from their freewill all you physically can for as long as you possibly can, that is how I was raised, good Mormon family, good honest mom and father, yet I’ve been on felony probation my son’s whole life for this plant.

    I don’t want to see my kids use this stuff but worse, they will regardless of this law, they’ll be snatched right out of their protective, good and honest, Mormon mom and dad’s hands and thrown right into the reach of real violent criminals who use real drugs, for something like this. That sickens me because Mr Hyde is right, it’s only illegal because of unfounded, unsubstantiated, unreasonable fear. there is nothing “immoral” about it, nothing but the consequences derived by this temporary prohibition.

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