“We smoke pot and we like it a lot”

January 21, 2014

A belated Happy New Year to any reader who has found his way here before February! 

As a student back in the 1980s I remember seeing in Washington D.C. a demonstration by marijuana legalization activists, mostly long-haired young and middle-aged men, who were chanting, “We smoke pot and we like it a lot!” If I recall correctly, it was near the Willard Hotel and I was with my father, who was telling me something about the history of that distinguished facility. Seeing the demonstrators, my father merely shook his head in disgust – to him and to most of his generation, the demonstrators could only appear as ignorant, immature hedonists who lacked any real basis for their demand other than that they liked pot “a lot.” I myself was, at the time, philosophically in favor of drug legalization, but I was also instinctively ashamed by these demonstrators, their demeanor, and their childish chanting. How would the nation be improved by giving these people their drug?

Well, times have changed and now pot is on its way to becoming legal, with the Colorado “experiment” only one of many developments that we can expect. As with gay “marriage” there has been a burst of legal developments and a piling-on of public figures loudly declaring their approval of pot, some waxing poetically on their love for the weed, others declaring that while they don’t personally like it they don’t see any justification for banning it. Of course laws cannot be dismantled all at once and there remains, perhaps, a lingering feeling that smoking marijuana is not respectable, but it’s clear which way the wind is blowing. As with immigration, as with traditional marriage, the people actually running our society do not believe that laws or practices restricting use of marijuana deserve to be enforced.

With all the issues we face today, keeping pot illegal is hardly a priority issue for me. Frankly, I know people – lawyers, professors, professionals – who smoke it occasionally and don’t seem to suffer ill physical or mental harm. I would have trouble looking them in the face and saying they should be arrested for their practice. At the same time, the move for legalization is disturbing, if only because it represents the collapse of yet another set of restrictions on behavior that were enacted to protect the society as a whole and that seemed, a generation ago, incapable of being done away with. But now the post-1960s generation has taken charge, and ideas once held only by radical minorities are mainstream. Why keep fighting? Legalize pot completely! If you don’t like it, don’t smoke it!

Here I don’t wish to go through research on marijuana or the possible merits of “medical” marijuana, nor to assemble reports that chronicle the damage and dangers of the drug. This California group provides some of that sort of documentation. Rather, I’d like to cite this issue as another case of the complete collapse of reasoned discussion within the society as a whole. Quite simply, if you are a liberal intellectual, legalization of marijuana is the only reasonable, moral, and intelligent position to hold.

David Brooks, for instance, recently tried to argue in a gentle way for restrictions on marijuana use. To avoid seeming like a prude or moralist, he explained that he had used marijuana in his use and had had some fun with it, then gently suggested that it might still not be good for society as a whole for pot to be legalized, since marijuana use tends to undermine the qualities of “reason, temperance and self-control.” This is, frankly, about the same argument that I would make for keeping restrictions on the use of the drug. Imagine an America where people sit out on their porches smoking joints, completely free of any social or legal penalty. Is this a Western, civilized society? I believe there are neighborhoods throughout America where this is in fact the case, and I repeat the question. In a healthy, conservative society the burden of proof would be on those who want to do away with the restrictions, not those who want to keep them.

I understand where Brooks is coming from, although my own experience with marijuana was much more limited than his, consisting only of accepting it on the rare occasion that I was with friends who used it. I could also add, though, that the very friend who introduced me to pot and alcohol in middle or high school was seriously harmed, I might even say destroyed, by the regular use of both starting at about age 12 and continuing to the last time I saw him a few years ago. It definitely leads to lethargy and makes focused work difficult. I believe it is a favorite among black men; how much good is it doing them?

But no liberal is listening to David Brooks and his oh-so-reasonable discussion. In the reader comments on his article one person after another dismisses him in smug, self-assured fashion, portraying him as hypocritical or as wanting to impose his values on others. Indeed, I was directed to the Brooks article by Jon Stewart’s response, which was quintessential Stewart name-calling, a signaling to his audience that here is someone too ridiculous to take seriously. See here, for example. 

Likewise, none other than our President, continuing in his gratuitous sharing of his personal opinions on social issues with the American people (he is always sober and concerned but doctrinally liberal-left), starts from the same experience-based position as Brooks, saying that he used it and personally doesn’t approve of it. Ultimately, though, Obama supports legalization, mainly because more blacks and Hispanics than “middle-class (=white) kids” are being arrested for pot use. Correcting racial disparities is a cause our President can really get behind.

Well, I give up. Let’s let the liberals have this battle and legalize marijuana use throughout the nation. It can be regulated and taxed, just like alcohol use is today. And we can finally stop wasting our time and energy on the battle. Oh, no, wait…. More complications, another crisis! It seems that marijuana producers are not the most ethical people in the world. Time to create another bureaucracy. And move on to legalizing the next drug.