Is Getting High a Human Right?

  • October 22, 2010

2847415795_e78091701a_bLadies and gentlemen, see girls and boys, sick allow me to introduce to you the latest addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: getting high.

When the declaration was signed, ask its authors and proponents envisioned a model of universal rights that would evolve in concert with the moral values of the time.

It’s doubtful, though, that the founders of the modern human rights regime thought joints, spliffs, dubies, reefers and ‘da rasta weed’ would ever be a part of that moral evolution.

But Californian duby lovers, Mexican drug runners and human rights proponents seem to have met at a crossroads sometime over the last year and the connection between the three has made it into mainstream public debate.

This November 2 Californians will vote on Proposition 19, determining whether or not to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana in the largest U.S. state. Much of the public debate around the initiative has taken a predictably binary path, pinning open-society progressive realists against public-safety focused conservatives.

But among others, a Washington Post article last month jointly authored by historian Héctor Aguilar Camín and former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda, argued that the potential passage of California’s Prop 19 “may, at long last, offer Mexico the promise of an exit from our costly war on drugs.”

They sited 28,000 Mexicans killed since 2006 in drug related violence, human rights violations by government security forces and a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy claim that up to 60 percent of Mexican drug cartels’ profits come from marijuana.

Proposition 19 changes this calculation,” they wrote. “If California legalizes marijuana, will it be viable for our country to continue hunting down drug lords in Tijuana? Will Wild West-style shootouts to stop Mexican cannabis from crossing the border make any sense when, just over that border, the local 7-Eleven sells pot?”

“Freed from the demands of the war on drugs, Mexico could return its energies to again reducing violent crime,” they concluded, in what became the single most influential article on Prop 19 written to date.

That was bait too juicy to avoid for the legalize marijuana camp and ever since a discussion over whether marijuana use is a human right and whether its legalization will decrease human rights violations in Mexico has been all over the media.

Does this mean the world is about to add getting high as the 31st article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, straight after the rights to education and an adequate standard of living?

No. But using human rights, or a human rights-based argument to justify the legalization of marijuana is a relatively new addition to mainstream public debate, and we here at are interested in what our readers think.

The canon of modern human rights theory, if there is such a thing, doesn’t offer much guidance on this point.

On the one hand, some human rights theorists would argue that not all ‘good’ things are human rights (having great friends, for example, is not a human right), and there is anyway no universal agreement that marijuana use is ‘good’. Indeed, some human rights theorists and critics are unable to sleep at night due to what has been dubbed ‘rights inflation': the perception that the list of human rights is an evolving snowball of unrealistic mumbo jumbo. Furthermore, human rights are not the same as legal rights, and many human rights theorists see their purpose as a last resort when an individual’s efforts to use or reform their legal system fails.

On the other hand, most rights theorists agree that human rights are meant to be used to push the reality of how human beings are treated by their respective legal and political systems towards a more moral vision of what human beings deserve, to be less about what we are as a society and more about what we can become.

Do all human beings have the universal right to smoke a reefer simply by virtue of being human?

We leave that to the comments section below.

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