A Conservative Columnist’s Desperate Attempt to Justify Marijuana Prohibition

Legalizing marijuana is foolish because it leads to far more use of the drug and the availability of ever more potent forms. But the foolishness doesn’t end there. Equally foolish is that as a society we have made peace with marijuana while making war on tobacco. This has been a classic example of upside-down thinking; and we are reaping exactly what we have sown. We have produced a generation of young Americans who would never put a cigarette or cigar near their lips, but who increasingly get high on pot.

Yes, tobacco — specifically cigarettes — kills and marijuana doesn’t. But, if you’ll forgive the ultimate political incorrectness, young people would do much better in life if they smoked tobacco rather than weed.

First, tobacco doesn’t kill young people. When it kills, it generally kills much older adult people. Moreover, according to a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, if you stop smoking cigarettes by age 44, you will lose only one more year of life than a person who has never smoked.

Second, regular pot smokers increasingly tune out of life, becoming what are known as potheads, or, to put it bluntly, losers.

Third, as noted in the CBS4 report, “new studies that have been published say the risk of a car accident increases two-fold after someone consumes pot.” In other words, innocent human beings — sometimes whole families — are more likely to be maimed, paralyzed, and killed by pot smokers than by cigarette smokers.

…ponder these questions: Would you rather your airplane pilot smoke pot or tobacco while flying? How would Britain have fared in World War II if Winston Churchill had smoked pot instead of cigars?

Dennis Prager, the author of this National Review piece, seems to think that because marijuana and tobacco are both smoked, they are therefore comparable substances. In fact (and I can’t believe I am forced to write this), they are nothing at all alike. A better comparison would be marijuana and alcohol, and it is of course illegal to consume an abundance of alcohol before operating a motor vehicle. Marijuana legalization advocates, as should be evident to anyone who has conducted even a cursory examination of the pro-legalization argument, think it should be illegal to drive while high. So yes, Mr. Prager, I would prefer that pilots not smoke marijuana before takeoff, just as I would hope they are not guzzling vodka from a tiny bottle they swiped from a stewardess.

As for Prager’s claim that marijuana users are destined to become “losers,” I’ll let Time’s Maia Szalavitz respond:

The idea that “marijuana makes you dumb” has long been embodied in the stereotype of the slow, stupid stoner, seen in numerous Hollywood movies and TV comedies and going unquestioned by much of American culture. But a new study says no: the researchers followed nearly 2,000 young Australian adults for eight years and found that marijuana has little long-term effect on learning and memory— and any cognitive damage that does occur as a result of cannabis use is reversible.

Perhaps most notably, there is no mention anywhere in Prager’s diatribe of the inevitable consequences of marijuana prohibition, such as mass incarceration, the financial burden that prohibition places on taxpayers, the racial disparities that arise when prohibition is enforced, or the escalating crime rates that are a direct result of prohibition. As Conor Friedersdorf notes, ignoring these devastating consequences is “deeply irresponsible.” One wishes National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. was still around to rebut Prager’s claims. In 2004, Buckley wrote:

Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great. The laws aren’t exactly indefensible, because practically nothing is, and the thunderers who tell us to stay the course can always find one man or woman who, having taken marijuana, moved on to severe mental disorder. But that argument, to quote myself, is on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating. General rules based on individual victims are unwise. And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend.
Buckley also noted that the common assumption, which Prager espouses, that legalization would necessarily lead to higher rates of drug use are unfounded. Take, for instance, Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs over a decade ago. Since then, drug abuse and drug usage rates have declined. It’s not terribly difficult to understand why Portugal’s drug law reform was so successful, unless of course you hold the core belief that a punishing, paternalistic government is the only thing that can rid society of its sins.
At some point in the 1960s, Buckley allegedly sailed his yacht into international waters so he could try marijuana. In so doing, he did not transform into a “loser.” He merely became one of the 42 percent of Americans whose curiosity has gotten the better of them. Call me a hedonistic liberal, but I think it’s time we stop treating all those Americans like felons.