We don't want to alarm you, but some kids who smoke weed grow up to be professional columnists who rail against drug use without understanding the deeper racial implications of their arguments. Scary, right?
A perhaps unexpected backlash to Colorado's marijuana legalization has arrived from some of those columnists, stern parent-types who are fretting about what weed will do to our kids. The New York Times' David Brooks starts his hand-wringing where no David Brooks column has started before, where no one would ever have expected a Brooks column to begin: "For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun." The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus establishes her stoner cred up-front, too. "I have done my share of inhaling, though back in the age of bell-bottoms and polyester."
But then the time came for them to put away childish things, and so they did, and so, they extrapolate, should you — especially you voters in Colorado and Washington who for some reason decided to legalize the sale of the drug.
...legal weed contributes to us being a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese— Tina Brown (@TinaBrownLM) January 3, 2014
Brooks and Marcus and, in response to Brooks, Tina Brown, make a similar case, one that reads like the sort of thing you'd see in a anti-alcohol pamphlet passed around in 1918. It is bad for you, it will cause you embarrassments, it is unhealthy, you should, in Brooks' articulation, instead seek "higher pleasures." Like running track. This is the argument he makes: his stoner friends started running track and that was better. OK.
When David Brooks and his friends and Ruth Marcus and her bell-bottoms were getting high in the 1970s, they were part of a counterculture that largely predated America's hyperactive anti-drug policies. (Though this widely-circulated story purporting to be from one of Brooks' co-smokers is satire.) They were just regular middle-class white kids getting high. That's not how it works anymore.
A report from the ACLU released over the summer articulates the disparities in arrests for marijuana possession. More than half of those arrested in 2010 were under the age of 25. But it's not teens that look like Brooks and Marcus and Brown that are more likely to be arrested. The graph at right shows the stark racial divide in such arrests. A black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person, despite the fact that blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Even if it were fairly applied, a law banning possession of small amounts of pot would be a waste of time and money that had no real effect on use or distribution. It is not fairly applied.
Neither Brooks or Marcus mentions race. To cut to the chase, their arguments are just cultural warfare cloaked in concern for the kids. It's the stupid, interminable war between hippies and squares with two squares saying that they infiltrated the hippie mindset and here's what they learned. Brooks and Marcus' Carrie-Nation-style crankiness about marijuana would be fine if we weren't in the middle of an incredibly dumb war between law enforcement and criminal culture over providing a recreational drug to people. (Marcus, weirdly, argues that "throwing people in jail for smoking pot is dumb and wasteful," and then argues that Colorado and Washington's laws should "make you nervous." What's happening here, Ruth?) These arguments would have been fine in 1979 when Brooks graduated from high school; now they just ignore the fact that black kids go to jail because marijuana gives the cops an excuse to arrest them.
This is why David Brooks stopped smoking weed: "I smoked one day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class. I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a total loser. It is still one of those embarrassing memories that pop up unbidden at 4 in the morning." I won't make the obvious joke here about stumbling through a presentation, but will say that high school offers plenty of other reasons to be embarrassed. Like being arrested for possession and failing to graduate as a result. That is embarrassing.
An idea! Let's try and foster a "moral ecology" — Brooks phrase — in which marijuana isn't used as an excuse to hassle black kids. Then Brooks can suggest they go out for track instead.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.