Conservativism And Marijuana
David L. Nathan, Clinical Professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, discusses a recent op-ed from David Frum, in which Frum states that he supports decriminalization of marijuana, but wants to keep it as a fine-worthy violation to “send a message” to kids that society still disapproves of the drug:
Frum would reduce the punishment for marijuana use for adults but nominally maintain its illegality in order to send a message to young people that pot is a “bad choice,” as if breaking the rules wasn’t as much an incentive as a deterrent for adolescents.
Kids are smart enough to recognize and dismiss a “because I said so” argument when they see one. By trying to hide marijuana from innately curious young people, we have elevated its status to that of a forbidden fruit. I believe a better approach is to bring pot into the open, make it legal for people over the age of 21, and educate children from a young age about the actual dangers of its recreational use.
Frum’s proposal is a good example of the ethical backflips that people perform in light of the collective insanity that the drug war produces. In this case, Frum fears that without a legal ban of some kind, parents won’t be able to convince their kids not to smoke marijuana. Yet it strikes me as terribly unconservative to assume that the government is better at instilling morals in people than parents are. What kind of conservative thinks that we can’t trust families to teach their kids about the dangers of drug use without government intervention? Put differently, what kind of Conservative trusts government more than family values?
Frum might respond by making the obvious point that Conservatives don’t oppose laws per se, just unnecessary ones. But that of course, is the point: after forty years of drug prohibition, marijuana is the most ubiquitous black market drug in the United States. In most American cities, it is easier for a teenager to acquire marijuana than alcohol or cigarettes. This is a textbook example of a law that is not only unnecessary, but actively undermining the very purpose it exists for.
When viewed in this light, Frum’s proposal contains a law that Conservatives should be railing against, rather than for. Yet even a smart guy like David Frum still apparently cannot bring himself out from under the collective hysteria of “Reefer Madness.” He’s so afraid of marijuana that he can’t imagine a world in which parents can successfully teach their kids not to smoke marijuana without the help of government. The fact that we’re hearing this from a self-described Conservative shows just how subversive the effects of drug prohibition are on public discourse in America. It shows how relatively intelligent public thinkers have to tie themselves in ideological knots to make room for prohibition in their worldview—even when those knots create internal contradictions that are difficult to reconcile.