I, Like David Brooks, Have Smoked Marijuana

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In order to comment on the marijuana legalization debate, it is apparently necessary to confess to your own history of pot-smoking first, so here goes: While in college, I experimented with marijuana. To be precise, I conducted 132 experiments with marijuana. It might have been 374 experiments. I’m not sure, because I lost my notes. The reason I conducted so many experiments is that I wanted to make sure I could replicate my findings accurately. I was attending the University of Pennsylvania at the time, and standards there are rigorous. One of my findings, by the way, was that I really like Funyuns.

Part of me wishes that I could say that I regret these experiments. I suppose that I would regret them had they led to some sort of bad outcome. But unlike alcohol, pot won’t poison you to death. Plus, I’m careful with matches. And because I am white, and was a college student at the time, I had no fear of arrest or incarceration. This is what struck me as I read David Brooks’s anti-legalization column, in which he confessed to smoking pot in high school: When white people talk about pot use, we tend to talk not about the law-enforcement hazards associated with getting high, but about the moral and cognitive hazards (and, by the way, it is true that I am downplaying these hazards, but I don’t deny their existence).

The disparity in arrest rates between white and black pot-users is the most interesting aspect of this debate. Federal statistics show that in 2010, blacks were almost four times as likely as whites to be arrested on possession charges. For most whites, pot was long ago de facto decriminalized. This double standard is one of the most obvious reasons I know for moving toward comprehensive decriminalization. One might argue that the double standard could be dealt with by enforcing possession laws more stringently in white communities. But good luck with that. In reality, here on Earth, that isn’t going to happen, mainly because whites in power would never allow their children to be exposed to the criminal justice system in that way.

Another reason to move toward decriminalization: The more than $3 billion a year spent by the states enforcing possession laws — a nonviolent crime if there ever was one — would be freed up to fight more dangerous drugs, and to provide health care and treatment for those addicted to those dangerous drugs such as heroin and alcohol. Because drug abuse is mainly a public-health issue, not a law-enforcement issue.

Another mandatory feature of the marijuana-themed column is the Current Use Statement, because it is morally acceptable to have been a stupid kid, but it is apparently less acceptable to be a stupid adult. So: I haven’t touched marijuana in 25 years. I don’t take other drugs, except Lipitor, which I wish got me high, but doesn’t; and I don’t drink alcohol very much at all, because I don’t like it — what it does to me, and what it does to society. But I will say this: If I manage to reach 80, or perhaps even 75, I won’t be turning to alcohol, but watch out, Colorado! I’ll be the guy in the Winnebago with the huge bags of Funyuns.

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