In thinking through some of the less rational but still resilient arguments against legalizing marijuana, it occurs to me that the smoke itself is part of the problem. Its smell is unmistakable and it makes visible what for most drugs is invisible. Someone high on crystal meth can pass by unnoticed; ditto someone on coke. But anyone smoking pot in public immediately alters the atmosphere dramatically. It is this, perhaps, that worries or somehow unnerves many otherwise sympathetic to the reform. But there are pragmatic solutions to this, of course. A reader writes:
Perhaps the way to best satisfy Josh is to restrict the locations or settings where one can smoke pot.
Josh, or his dad, or anyone else, looks back fondly on the halycon days of university where they smoked too much, or at inappropriate times (before class!), and recall the rush of illicitness. And they may now say, "Perhaps that was too much" or "But only in my youth." But surely they must consider their earlier days of binge-drinking and waking up next to the toilet (or in someone else's bed!) just as scandalous and overindulgent - yet they see no problem with allowing the youth of today to legally do the exact same thing. Why prohibit one excess and not another?
One difference may be that alcohol is legally confined to bars, restaurants, and the home. If we slightly curtail the location, we may be able to convince people that marijuana use will be like alcohol, not like smoking cigarettes. Then perhaps they'll stop worrying about walking through plumes of smoke at the playground or negotiating with perpetually stoned coworkers.
Not only is Josh Marshall clearly "not a libertarian", in your words, but he is also obviously not a black person. According to Noel Brinkerhoff:
From 2006-2008, blacks were arrested for marijuana possession in California’s 25 largest cities at four, five, six, seven and even 12 times the rate of whites. For Latinos, the arrest rate was twice to three times that of whites in California’s 33 largest cities. In the city of Los Angeles, blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites. In Pasadena, blacks make up 11% of the population, but 49% of the people arrested for possession of marijuana. In the state’s capital, Sacramento, blacks account for 14% of the population, but 51% marijuana arrests. [...]
This is [despite] the fact that [African]-Americans do not use drugs at a perceivable higher rate than white Americans. - 8.2% of whites and 10.1% of blacks use illicit drugs.
So, pot is "de facto legal but closeted" for educated and relatively affluent white guys like Josh and his dad. Its illegality had no real consequences but to mildly discourage them from continuing to use it, which looks now seems like a good thing in retrospect, so why change it? What a stunningly self-centered position.
There haven't been wars on nutmeg, but there have been many wars over nutmeg, which for years grew only on one small island, Run Island. This island was subjected to sieges and battles all in the name of a tiny spice that we now barely think about using as we halfheartedly sprinkle it over our coffee.
Perhaps, however, the wars that were fought over spice can give some perspective to the potential history of the War on Drugs, or specifically the War on Pot. Today, we view the spice wars as a historical oddity; it's quite funny to go grab a jar of turmeric or pepper and realize that people literally gave their lives over these spices which were of the highest value and used only by the rich. Hopefully in the future, people will be going to their cupboards, fridges, or humidors to grab some pot, giving a little chuckle over their ancestors who expended such ridiculous amount of money, brainpower, energy, effort, people power, and lives just trying to keep people from smoking a little herb.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.