July 3, 2010

Sin Becomes Legal, Sinners Protest

Originally posted March 26, 2010

Two stories appeared today in my local newspaper, both courtesy of the Associated Press.  That they appeared on the same day is probably no more than a freak accident, yet I can’t help but think that this coincidence is a sign of the state of our modern society.

Story #1: The government of France may soon legalize prostitution.

Sacre bleu! Chantal Brunel, a Member of Parliament representing President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party, has called for a study on the possibility of decriminalizing the world’s oldest profession.

The idea is to protect the ladies of the evening from exploitation, trafficking and violence, in favor of properly regulated and licensed brothels. (About 1,400 cathouses were closed in 1946 under what is known as the Marthe Richard law.)  Apparently the authorities now believe that since they can’t stop the sex trade, they may as well tax it and reduce the spread of diseases caused by it.  And hey, it can’t hurt tourism, eh?

The biggest opponents of such a law: The very people it seeks to empower and protect.  Recently dozens of *ahem* escorts held a demonstration in the streets of Paris to protest this new legislation before it gets off the ground.  After all, if they can’t work a street corner, then where’s the romance?  Where’s the thrill of the chase?  As it now stands, they can perform their services at perfectly respectable hotels.  But how many image-conscious businessmen would show up if they had to be seen entering a building with a flashing red neon sign reading Le Sex?  Can’t be good for business.

Could it be that legalizing something is the best way to kill it?  I don’t know, but the prospect is intriguing.

Story #2: The State of California might soon legalize marijuana.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has just certified the signatures on a petition that seeks to decriminalize pot, and the issue will appear on a statewide ballot in November. The new law, as promoted by the Drug Policy Alliance, would allow people age 21 or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for their own use.  Local governments could regulate and tax its commercial production and sale.  But it would be forbidden on school grounds, and you won’t be allowed to smoke it in public places or in the presence of a minor.

The biggest opponents of such a law: The very people who might be expected to benefit from it.  Surely the cannabis aficionados of the Golden State should breathe a smoky sigh of relief, assured that their weekend parties are safe from police raids. But as a former adolescent, I can testify that the joy of getting stoned is only a small part of the experience.  It’s also about rebellion, sneaking out of the house, hiding your stash where Mom and Dad will never find it, getting away with something forbidden.  Remove this excitement and what’s left?  Mostly hunger pangs and headaches.

In Humboldt County, the unquestioned state capital of the cannabis trade (and recognized worldwide for the quality and potency of its product), this development could bring economic ruin.  For if every town can have its own commercial farm, and any Cheech or Chong or Jerry Garcia can grow his own, the market price will surely plummet. A growing supply, coupled with declining demand, bodes a bleak future for any industry.

Could it be that legalizing something is the best way to kill it?  I don’t know, but the prospect is intriguing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should legalize prostitution or dangerous drugs.  Yet history has shown, again and again, that almost every time we attempt to regulate the private behavior of our citizens, it has the opposite effect.  Witness the failure of Prohibition, or book burning; things that are forbidden become more attractive, even if we never really wanted them in the first place.  I never wanted to see the movie The Exorcist, until my mother told me I couldn’t.  At that point I had to find a way.

Try this: don’t think about pink zebras.  There, did that make you stop thinking about them?  No, it probably made you think about pink zebras for the first time in your life, didn’t it?  I’m inclined to believe that the answer to drug abuse – or alcoholism – or promiscuity – or any other destructive behavior – is not simply to tell our kids “You can’t do this, that, and the other.”  Instead we must help them find something else to do.  Something productive, something wholesome, something that contributes to the welfare of our local community.

We will never legislate ourselves into a righteous society.  Statues may compel conformity, but not conviction. Busy hands and minds don’t have the time, or the desire, for the pink zebras.


  1. The Mob loved Prohibition. They made a killing off of it.