We Americans love to think idealistically about the virtues of expanding freedom, but we are poor at thinking about what happens to people who can’t handle freedom. Every parent understands that older kids can be afforded a degree of freedom that younger kids cannot, and that younger kids need a firm, "No, you can’t do that, because I said so." Frum’s point is that while we ought to reduce the criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use, decriminalization goes too far because of the added burden it would place people who are most vulnerable to the deleterious aspects of the drug. He has a good point, and not just about drug laws.
So all American adults are basically children that we have to protect from their own choices? You can't get a clearer voice of condescending paternalism than that. Conor is as aghast at it – and its completely counter-productive effects – as I am:
One final point about the "unsophisticated" people the paternalists are out to protect. So long as prohibition persists, a subset of them will be risking their futures and perhaps their lives by deciding to sell drugs on the black market. And another subset of the "unsophisticated" will trust the wrong people to supply their drugs and wind up with a product more dangerous than it would otherwise be. I wish David Frum's family all the best, but catering drug policy to the needs of upper middle class kids in homes with parents who actively talk to them about drug abuse doesn't make much sense, even from a paternalist perspective – especially given the awful track record of "it's illegal" in preventing American youth from experimenting with marijuana.
I have to say that David's arguments on this remind me of the early arguments I had about marriage equality.
David hasn't thought much about this question and his arguments simply miss the core case of the other side: that Prohibition is making pot more available to kids, not less; that countless people not in the upper middle class are swept up into a criminal records simply because they want to enjoy a pleasure less dangerous than alcohol; that the racial disparities are simply unconscionable. The thing is, as with marriage equality, the opponents of Prohibition have thought a great deal about this, while the supporters truly haven't. They need to up their game – or they will lose this argument as soundly as they lost the marriage one. (Recall that not so long ago, David urged re-enforcement of sodomy laws as revenge against the push for marriage equality. You can look it up now in the e-Book version of my anthology, "Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con".)