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President's Ponderings: Freedom to be stupid

By Ed Luttrell, National Grange President, (President's Ponderings - 1/30/13)

  JANUARY 30, 2013 --

I am shaking my head at one of Oregon’s state representatives. Rep. Greenlick has submitted a bill (HB 2077) in the Oregon House that would make nicotine a class III controlled substance. 

This bill, from what I can see, makes tobacco products illegal unless you get a doctor’s prescription for it. This creates a number of problems including the fact that many doctors probably won’t prescribe something that is harmful to the patient. 

The reason that I’m shaking my head is the fact that an elected representative would submit such a bill. We saw what happened during prohibition: making a legal product illegal to stop its use. No one seriously argued that alcohol was good for you, but the end result was that it was unacceptable to tell Americans that they didn’t have the freedom to be stupid. 

While I’ve never been a smoker and have actively encouraged my children to never smoke, it isn’t my place to tell other adults that they can’t smoke. It isn’t a moral issue, it isn’t a societal issue, it is a personal issue to do something that may harm you.

Those who think that this is good because smoking is bad will also find other things that are bad. We’ve heard of people and groups that want to ban or tax certain foods because they may make us fat or ban or tax certain activities because they may cause injuries. 
America is a place that offers freedom to the individual. Banning actions that will harm others makes sense, banning or taxing things out of existence that may harm you infringes on your freedom.

Politicians who seek attention through bills like 2077 may not believe that it has much of a chance to pass, but I wonder if they are trying to desensitize the average citizen to the threat of the loss of freedoms. 

This bill likely has no chance to see the light of a committee room, but the danger is in how many people think, “Tobacco is bad, maybe this is a good idea.” The question you need to ask yourself is: does freedom include the right to do something that isn’t wise? If freedom gives you the right to do something silly, or even stupid, what self-respecting politician would propose taking that right from you or other Americans?

I have a hunch that each of us has slightly different opinions of what is silly, dignified, stupid, or smart - and that in itself is the essence of freedom. We don't need elected officials deciding for us!

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