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The welfare of our youngest citizens

| Thursday, September 25, 2014

Among countless others, probably, one cultural contribution of the modern-day movie masterpiece “Gettysburg” is a gentle ribbing of the Southern accent. When a Union officer inquires into the cause of a Confederate prisoner-of-war’s actions, the latter replies, “We’re fightin’ for our ‘rats.” Unsurprisingly, this confuses the Yankee, as it would us. And while it might confuse some to hear in a warm Southern drawl, “Children have ‘rats,’” it shouldn’t surprise anyone that children have rights. But what rights do children have? In particular, what rights do children have that pertain to drug policy?

Before turning to the particular, we can get a feel for children’s rights by starting with something very basic and material. Like any person, children have a right not to be killed. You’d think this would go without saying. The fact of human mortality renders impossible an absolute right to be alive, but surely one never has (good) reason to make ending the life of a child the object (or point) of one’s action. More than this, the goodness of life would seem to ground a further right of a child to be protected from incidental death. This cannot be absolute like the first right, but it must be very strong, yes? Policy — not just abortion policy, but public safety and healthcare policy — responds to this cluster of rights to life.

As drug (ab)use can have more than material effects, let’s postpone our discussion one more paragraph, so that we might consider an example of a non-material right. Does every child have a right, all else being equal, to be cared for by his or her biological mother and father? Absent truly compelling circumstances that may intervene, it is hard to see why a child should not have a claim to the care of the two persons who are responsible for bringing him or her into existence. Furthermore, the child has a right, a just claim, not to be raised in an environment that obscures the possibility and reasonableness of comprehensive (marital) union. Again, the human condition prevents these rights from being absolute, but they constitute very serious claims. Marriage policy (as distinct from tax policy, anti-discrimination policy, or even adoption policy) responds to this cluster of rights regarding one’s origins and marital union.

Alright, so what children’s rights does drug policy answer? Children have claims, material and non-material, at stake in the drug policy debate. Among the material claims is a right to physical health. Setting aside the so-called “hard drugs,” marijuana alone is harmful to children’s health. The potency of marijuana has increased many times over in recent decades, and studies, including one published in The Journal of Neuroscience in April, continue to confirm that marijuana causes brain damage, especially in the young. Turning to the non-material, children have a right to grow up in an environment in which basic aspects of human flourishing are not obscured — by addiction, addicts or drug advertising agencies.

Colorado’s recent decision to loosen drug laws provides us a picture of what we don’t want. Former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy John P. Walters — who will speak on campus today — reported about Denver, “One public school administrator told us that he is attending increasing numbers of private, disciplinary hearings for 12-year-olds who are daily marijuana users. Denver is awash with marijuana that is advertised as having a potency of three times or more the national average — which is already almost three times stronger today than it was in days of Woodstock. Potent, cheap THC gummy bears with hallucinogenic effects are advertised in newspapers, featuring cartoon characters such as Fred Flintstone.”

It seems safe to say that this environment will not promote children’s development and fulfillment. Perhaps it’s time to redouble our efforts to provide drug-free environments for children. This might lead us to endorse prohibition policies that seem restrictive to adults (including college students), but then again, are drugs so irreplaceable? Is recreation impossible without marijuana? Is it so unreasonable for a law to require one to choose a different activity? Surely not. Even a limited government need not be so limited as to ignore the welfare of its youngest citizens. In drug policy, as elsewhere, we can fight for children’s ‘rats — sorry, rights. Let’s do so.

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