Last night, after watching/blogging the most exciting Sugar Bowl I can remember ended, I headed over to the New York Times to read an op-ed column exploding on Twitter. The column is called “Weed: Been There. Done That.” and it’s by insufferable fuddy-duddy writer David Brooks.
If you’re not familiar, Brooks’ schtick over the years is to provide cultural commentary in the NYT for white, well-bred baby boomers of a certain social economic status– people who were born in the ’50s and ’60s, came of age and went to college in the ’70s and ’80s, and have raised kids who are well beyond their college years, mostly members of the millennial generation the media can’t stop yapping about. He’s the voice of your parents generation, one that was perfectly content with the status quo no matter how BULLSHIT it is.
Case in point, his hot take in the NYT on the legalization of marijuana. Brooks admits to smoking up as a kid and having all sorts of high times with his friends:
We now have a couple states — Colorado and Washington — that have gone into the business of effectively encouraging drug use. By making weed legal, they are creating a situation in which the price will drop substantially. One RAND study suggests that prices could plummet by up to 90 percent, before taxes and such. As prices drop and legal fears go away, usage is bound to increase. This is simple economics, and it is confirmed by much research. Colorado and Washington, in other words, are producing more users.
The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.
But, of course, these are the core questions: 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.
Former Playboy music writer Tim Mohr said it once about David Brooks; I’ll repeat it with the hopes he hears it again: You, sir, are a jackass.
But he’s not the only old white guy who wants his elected government to create laws that trample on its citizen’s individual liberties when it comes to what they do in their free time. Reacting to Brooks column, fellow old, affluent, grouchy, and white talking head Joe Scarborough denounced marijuana legalization efforts on his show: “Never once did I say, ‘Hey man, that looks like something I want to do.’ Never smoked it, ’cause everybody that ever did just looked dumb as hell.”
Wait… Did he just criticize marijuana’s legalization because he thinks the people who smoke it are stupid, without even trying it? Not criticizing what you don’t understand is a concept lost on the members of the opinion-babbling media. Pay attention while the equally-in-insufferable Jim Cramer squawks like a parakeet in the background:
And it doesn’t stop there, people! Now old white people are making these silly conclusions:
Brooks and Scarborough’s general attitude is classic Reefer Madness fear-mongering that put our current marijuana laws in place. It’s the same tactics that have put millions of non-violent “criminals”—many poor and minorities—in jail for decades. Moreso, both echo the insane “You can’t be a productive member of society if you smoke pot!” attitude that’s constantly been proven bullshit with the personal and professional accomplishments of millions. Plus, why do any of you give a shit what people are doing in their free time?
Everyone agrees marijuana is a powerful substance that can indeed cause people to do stupid things. Everyone can—and should—agree that people who do stupid things under the influence of marijuana that are morally bankrupt, reckless, or endanger/threaten the safety of others should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. People who drive under the influence of marijuana are just as dangerous as those who drive under the influence of alcohol. Fuck. That. And marijuana-users who break laws of public safety should be punished as such.
But the vast majority of people being tarred and feathered by the criminal justice system for marijuana-related offenses are in the system strictly because of marijuana’s criminality under prohibition. They’re not there for committing violent or malicious crimes, but rather because possession/usage of marijuana is illegal. And all too often, especially for those who are poor or a minority, the system will destroy their lives for that simple possession/use charge. For those who can’t afford it, the criminality of a plant used for medicinal purposes creates a maze that’s inescapable.
What Brooks and Scarborough and Brown and the other old grouchy “influencers” don’t see is that legalized marijuana is a social issue, not simply a matter of taste.
Most of us know a harmless person whose life has been negatively affected by a marijuana arrest. Hell, maybe you are that someone. I’m sure if Brooks had been busted and thrown in prison for possession during his years of experimenting with marijuana he’d have a much different outlook on legalization efforts. Likewise, I’m sure his attitude would be different if he reached out to anyone who had inoperable cancer and who found his quality of life greatly enhanced thanks to marijuana. I’m sure his attitude would be different if his son or daughter was thrown in jail for possession and he couldn’t afford the lawyers and fines it takes to get them out.
Marijuana is estimated to be used by over 25 million people annually. Culturally, many recreational users believe it’s a safer and better experience than alcohol, perhaps because it makes South Park episodes even funnier and Dark Side of the Moon somehow sound even better than it already is. Many believe the side effects, though there are some, to be relatively benign.
Laws that try to curb pretty basic human vice behavior didn’t work for booze in the ’20s. They’re not working for marijuana use or production either, Brooks.
Over 7 million people were busted in the United States for possessing pot from 2001 – 2010. As one federal prosecutor put it, marijuana’s legalization is causing us to “shoot mosquitos with an elephant gun.” That’s a lot of people being put into a system meant to destroy you, because they were caught dabbling with the picked buds of a plant. And when you look at who is being put in the system, it shows an even more disturbing trend. According to a comprehensive ACLU study released in the summer of 2013, black and white people use marijuana at nearly the same rate. Yet blacks have been nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. In some states, that stat is even higher. According to a CATO Institute study, the money spent on enforcing marijuana laws is estimated to cost taxpayers $3.6 billion a year. That same study claims that legalization, meanwhile, is estimated to bring in $8.7 billion in taxable revenue.
Fuck this cycle. Fuck the old, grouchy white men in suits who want this destructive social cycle to continue.
$8.7 billion in taxable revenue A YEAR. That’s a lot of money that can be spent on, say, nice national parks! Or healthcare! Or engineers for a kickass space program! Or fighting the malicious, greedy evil swine-fuckers who bring harm on other people. Fuck those people. They are real criminals, Brooks.
Not the petty marijuana smokers.