New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has become the latest leader to gain prominence for having smoked marijuana. On April 9, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws unveiled a $500,000 ad campaign that highlights what Bloomberg said when New York magazine asked him last summer if he ever smoked grass: “You bet I did. And I enjoyed it.”
NORML’s ads lampoon the war on marijuana, a big-government debacle that deserves to be laughed into oblivion. Fittingly enough, many politicians grin at their own marijuana use.
Ex-president Bill Clinton famously yucked it up when he revealed that he smoked pot, “but I didn’t inhale.”
As the April 9 New York Daily News noted, Gov. George Pataki (R., NY), said, “yes, I did inhale,” after he and some Columbia Law School pals toked up. Previously, they had eaten baked beans cooked with marijuana.
Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R., Calif.) quipped on Politically Incorrect that in the 1960s, “I did everything but drink the bong water.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.) told The Economist that he smoked pot while studying in the 1970s. To do so, Gingrich said, “was a sign that we were alive and in graduate school in that era.”
Despite drug warriors’ claims, marijuana does not necessarily demolish young people’s life prospects. In fact, Americans evidently can smoke grass, then wind up in governors’ mansions, the U.S. Congress, and even the White House. Bloomberg, who was a multibillionaire media tycoon before Gotham’s voters sent him to City Hall, recalled his zany days at a Johns Hopkins University fraternity in the early 1960s. As he explains in his autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg: “Maybe all that enjoyable ‘wasted’ time had long-term benefits after all.”
While politicos chuckle at their own “youthful experimentation” with marijuana, it’s no laughing matter for many Americans who conduct such “experiments” today. They often suffer, though less from hemp than from handcuffs.
The NYPD’s arrests for possession and/or public smoking of marijuana have swelled from 1,362 in 1993 to 50,830 in 2000, equal to 15 percent of that year’s total arrests. (NORML correctly prefers citations and fines to apprehension for public smoking.) In 2000, 734,498 Americans were arrested nationwide for breaking marijuana laws, 646,042 of them for mere possession.
Using U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the Marijuana Policy Project calculates that 37,500 federal, state, and local inmates were imprisoned for cannabis violations in 1998, 15,400 of them for possession alone. At an average cost of $20,000 each, the government spent $750 million to incarcerate these offenders. MPP estimates that the war on marijuana costs taxpayers $9.2 billion annually.
This shopworn policy devours scarce public resources, even as authorities struggle to prevent future airline hijackings, bioterrorist attacks or even the detonation of a “dirty nuke” in Times Square. Every law-enforcement asset arrayed against nonviolent potheads is one less asset that can be deployed against al Qaeda sleeper cells.
Officials high and low should accept a simple fact: U.S. adults enjoy marijuana. Some 69.7 million Americans over 18 at least have tried it, while 19 million adults say they have smoked pot within the last year. And why not? Marijuana can enhance music, fine dining, and long walks on secluded beaches. If consenting adults wish to spark up and watch The Simpsons inside a private home, that should be as lawful as doing so after sipping red wine.
Naturally, those who light up, then head for the highway should be prosecuted for driving under the influence. Ditto those who operate heavy machinery while stoned. While visiting Lake Tahoe’s Squaw Valley resort last week, what smelled to me like burning reefer wafted from the operator’s booth atop the Solitude ski lift. Those responsible for the safety of Americans who dangle above groomed slopes should perform their duties clearheadedly.
But when it comes to policing grown-ups at leisure, the war on marijuana is sillier than a weed-fueled giggle. The same government that permits Americans to soften the edges of modern life with Xanax, Tylenol PM, Lotto, and Jagermeister immediately should put a match to the entire anti-pot project. If marijuana amuses the mayor of America’s premier city, it should be available to entertain adults in Anytown, USA.