Drawing Lines on Slippery Slopes [The Hub Debate]

Line Drawn

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Resolved: With the passage of HB105, Utah has embarked down the slippery slope of legalized marijuana.


In law school, I had a constitutional law professor who (rather contemptuously) used to respond to the question, “But where is the line?” with “Seven.  The line is at seven.

His answer was, of course, designed to rather bluntly convey to the questioner my professor’s contempt for so-called slippery slope arguments, which tend to disregard distinctions in favor of fear of general trends and preclude incremental movement in favor of all or nothing approaches.  The idea of a slippery slope is often used to justify adherence to a bad idea because change is certain to bring something worse.

My professor thought you could (almost) always draw and hold a line, if it was justified.  Rather than worry about the slippery slope, the question to him was, “Does it make sense for the line to be drawn where it is?”  If it doesn’t make sense to hold a line, then the incremental movement isn’t the problem; the problem is that the original position has become indefensible.

Has Utah embarked on a slippery slope toward full marijuana legalization by adopting HB 105, allowing for the use of cannibis oil to treat epilepsy?

No.

But, what HB 105 — and the rash of related laws, ranging all the way to full legalization — does demonstrate quite clearly is that, are existing drug laws are too inflexible and that we need to reimagine our approach.  There’s simply no reason (and our legislators, to their credit, recognized this fact) to deny children the right to an effective treatment to epilepsy simply because the product happened to descend from an otherwise illegal drug.

But my sense is that Utah is also right to be cautious in adjusting the status quo.  Incremental movements, especially those clearly justified, take pressure off of policymakers and allow larger movements to be better considered, especially in light of experience of other jurisdictions that move quickly.  Unless there are immediate concerns counseling for quick, large-scale movement, Utah’s taken exactly the right approach with HB 105.  I suspect we’ll further movement toward decriminalization, but am skeptical that we’ll reach full-blown legalization.

And I’m afraid that’s about as insightful as you’re gonna get from a tetotalling Mormon who’s never tried a drug stronger than Extra-Strength Tylenol Allergy Sinus.

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