That's the latest argument offered by a prominent critic of legal cannabis. And it fails even if you accept the need for paternalism.
At CNN, David Frum continues his anti-marijuana-legalization push with an argument that has a nugget of truth. "When we write social rules, we always need to consider: Who are we writing rules for?" he writes. "Some people can cope with complexity. Others need clarity .... Over the past three decades, and in area after area of social life, Americans have replaced simple rules that anybody can follow with complex rules that baffle large numbers of people."
To illustrate what he means he talks about home mortgages.
Consider, for example, the home mortgage. Once the mortgage was a very simple product. Put 20% down, then sign up for a fixed schedule of payments over the next 30 years. In the space of a single generation, these 30-year fixed-rate amortizing mortgages turned what had been a nation of renters into a nation of homeowners. For more sophisticated buyers, however, the standard mortgage was a big nuisance. For them, bankers developed more flexible products: no money down, no documentation, interest-only, adjustable rate.
These products met genuine needs. But as they diffused down-market, they became traps for people who did not understand the risks they were accepting.
I don't know if that's an accurate history of the home mortgage, but it's enough to make his meaning clear. Says Rod Dreher, nodding:
Clever people who know how to negotiate a world of risky choices successfully tend to be libertarians who wish to maximize choice. They trust in their own ability to make the right choice. And they also trust in their ability, or their means, to absorb the consequences of a negative choice. I find that libertarians often fail to appreciate that there are many, many people in the world who aren't clever, who don't bring the same skill and temperament set to negotiating risky choices, and who have far less resilience if their choices result in failure.
He goes on:
Traditional social rules of sex, marriage, and childbearing may strike sophisticated libertarian-oriented people as an onerous burden, or at least the sort of thing that ought not be taken terribly seriously. Less clever people, though, may have far less skill at handling sexual relationships in the absence of strong social norms -- with much more serious consequences.
In my experience, libertarians are far more interested in people's capabilities than they are in people's frailties.
This is a blind spot, I think.
The common good may require limits on the freedoms of its most intelligent and capable members. The stupid ought to be able to count on a certain level of protection from the sophisticated.
Again, I definitely don't want to endorse all of that, but let us grant that policymakers ought to be attuned to the fact that there are benefits to simplicity in social rules, and one of the benefits is the likelihood of better outcomes among people who lack sophistication in a given policy area.