The Corner

Re: The High Life

Kathryn, after seeing your comment, I took a look at that David Brooks piece. I noted in passing that Brooks was able to walk away from marijuana of his own free will, and that it doesn’t appear to have operated as any kind of gateway drug, at least for him. 

And then I arrived at this: 

[O]n the whole, I think being stoned is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.

Maybe, maybe not, but that’s a point of view that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the possibility of light or occasional marijuana use, a question, I imagined, that could be a discussion for another time.

Back to Brooks:

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.

A “sort of life”? Not necessarily. And that’s why the issue of the extent of an individual’s drug use becomes something that cannot be postponed for another day. It’s quite possible to enjoy a drink every now and then (or even—the horror—a little more than that) without being a drunk. Equally, it is possible to smoke a joint or two without becoming a stoner. Although Brooks writes earlier that he does not “have any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time” he appears to accord them no consideration (or to recognize that getting high is itself a variable notion: not all those pot-smoking Colorado folk will be turning the dial to eleven) when setting out the rules for that moral universe of his.

Brooks continues:

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.

Oh good grief.

Over at Reason, Matt Welch wades in:

The Drug War is to “subtly tip[ping] the scale” as a firing squad is to gentle discouragement.

Welch adds:

It is “a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be” after you go to jail for engaging in the same recreational activity as a teenage David Brooks.

And earlier he makes this point, a point so essential to any real understanding of the venerable Anglo-American idea that everything which is not forbidden is allowed that it is sad that it still needs making, but Brooks’s column reminds us that it does:

The absence of prohibition is not the presence of government sanction.


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