Talking Heads For Prohibition

Scarborough repeats tired, intellectually lazy arguments against the legalization of marijuana:

You’ll notice a few things about this inane discussion. There is close to zero informed understanding of marijuana, its physical and psychological effects. You don’t find discussions about how marijuana hurts the adult mind or how it’s as addictive and socially disruptive as alcohol (because those arguments disintegrate as soon as you try to substantiate them). There is a completely anecdotal premise that a drug used by the last three presidents – and countless truly creative and accomplished people – simply makes everyone “dumb.” You’ll notice above that the entire smug boomer crew on Scarborough’s show has no real response to the point that alcohol can also make you dumb (and violent and out-of-control). They dismiss that scenario if you drink alcohol in moderation. So why not pot in moderation? But my point is this: they haven’t even gotten past that basic stage of the debate because they haven’t spent more than a few seconds mulling it over. To wit:

That should be “our being a fatter, dumber, sleepier …” But I guess a little weed is what’s going to kill off grammar.

Almost all the anecdotes, moreover, are from the distant past and are about white, teenage or college use (something legalizers are keen to discourage). Little data are presented; no specific social harms are identified. In other words: cable news. The other thing I notice is something I saw very early on when a whole bunch of pundits realized they had to say something to oppose gay marriage. These people simply don’t know a lot about the subject, do not regard it as serious enough to be better informed, and offer arguments that are so weak or irrelevant to the central question that they are setting themselves up for total failure in this debate. I give you Ruth Marcus:

Please do not argue that Colorado’s law, like those proposed elsewhere, bans sales to those under 21. Ha! I have teenage children. The laws against underage drinking represent more challenge to overcome than barrier to access. And although alcohol seems to be the teen drug of choice among the adolescents I know, the more widely available marijuana becomes, the more minors will use it. If seniors in fraternities can legally buy pot, more freshmen and sophomores will be smoking more of it.

This would make sense if not for one fact: teens have said for years that marijuana is currently easier to get than alcohol. Prohibition has made it so. All of which is a warm-up for David Brooks’ column today, reminiscing about his former pot-smoking and adding a moral disapproval to pot he would never assign to alcohol:

Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

But what if pot enhances the higher pleasures – like listening to or making music, or appreciating fine wine or great food? And why doesn’t alcohol fit squarely into the same category? Millions of grown adults (not giggly teens) use the drug the way others use alcohol – with far less socially damaging or physically dangerous effect. What David doesn’t do either is address the real issue at hand: the social costs of prohibition versus the social costs of legalization. On that note, Matt Welch fires back at Brooks:

“Healthy societies” don’t throw millions of people into human meat lockers to satisfy the moral urges of social engineers. It is “a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be” after you go to jail for engaging in the same recreational activity as a teenage David Brooks. The “moral ecology” got a whole better on Jan. 1, and will get better still when people stop using the criminal code as a laboratory experiment on their fellow human beings.

Gary Greenberg, who’s the full-on stoner whose life was apparently ruined in Brooks’ column, joins the conversation [Update: Greenberg clarifies: “What follows here is satire of the Juvenalian variety. I thought I embedded enough tipoffs, but then again I forgot how much stranger than fiction truth can be. So to those who thought it was real and suffered pain as a result, I apologize.] Tom Chivers calls Brooks’ column “startlingly smug, patronising and complacent”:

[W]hat I will say is this: notice that, in David Brooks’s youthful experimentation, his “been there, done that” memoirs, in which no real harm is done to him by this relatively safe drug, there is not a section in which he is arrested, imprisoned for possession, given a criminal record and barred from several professions later in life. And in fact most of these “I took drugs in my youth, but it was a youthful indiscretion, and I regret it, so we shouldn’t legalise them” memoirs are all similar in a noticeable way: they’re written by successful people whose lives weren’t ruined by a criminal prosecution. That’s the “subtle tip of the scale”, that’s the way the government apparently “encourages the highest pleasures”: by locking up people and destroying their future lives.

Matt Lewis adds:

Brooks’ column only serves to prove that many kids will quit on their own, and — in any event — the experience won’t stop them from going on to be highly successful pundits. In fact, the only way his marijuana use might have hurt Brooks (and possibly ruined his life) would have been if he had been arrested. And that danger is now almost completely out the window in Colorado. And so, we are left with a very well-written and thought-provoking column that ultimately fails to make a coherent argument.

Nicole Flatrow also focuses on arrests:

If you’re black in America, you’re four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, even though all races use marijuana at the same rate. In some states, the disparity is as high as 8 to 1. The overwhelming majority of these arrests are for possession. If you’re poor and black, or if you live in a particular inner city neighborhood, your arrest is a near certainty.

Lastly, a lone Brooks defender: Dreher wishes legalization supporters would treat Brooks, and those like him, more civilly:

I hate the way many liberals and libertarians are so zealous about the issue, in a way that shuts down deliberation. Somebody on my Twitter feed today said that pot legalization is for the left what guns are for the right: the issue on which there can be no legitimate dissenting position.

I sure hope I’ve treated David’s arguments, such as they are, civilly. Ditto my friend David Frum’s. I know they are well-intentioned, and the idea that there can be no cost to ending prohibition is silly. The real argument is that the benefits of legalization far outweigh the costs – an argument David simply doesn’t address. I wish he would. I also wish that every pundit who writes about their youthful folly would do us a favor and research the current state of marijuana use and production, examine the far more sophisticated mixtures of CBD and THC, of sativa and indica, that this amazing plant is now grown to produce, and would acknowledge the medical uses of pot, which research is beginning to show are bewilderingly manifold. I wish they would not insult so many of their fellow adults and fellow citizens by arguing that their pleasure of choice is simply a way to be “dumb.” Calling those who disagree with you dumb is not that civil.