The most shocking opinion you can express in 2017 is not support for the death penalty or pre-publication censorship of books and television or even opposition to abortion; it is thinking that marijuana should be illegal.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that Jeff Sessions, Barbara Bush, Roger Goodell, and I are the only living Americans who still believe we should ban pot. We anti-dopers are a sad, doom-laden fraternity, long immured to defeat. We live for small victories, which usually come in the form of offending the sensibilities of our opponents, which is to say the entire American public. Speaking on ESPN Radio earlier this year, the beleaguered commissioner of the NFL put trendy sportswriters into a frenzy when he insisted that marijuana has "an addictive nature" and "may not be healthy for the [league's] players long-term." One columnist even referred to his remarks as "dangerous."
Delicious as it is, it is hard to make sense of such indignation. I have my own qualms about the empirical rigor of "addiction" as a biological and chemical phenomenon, but ask yourself how many potheads you know who smoke a joint once a year, as if it were Thanksgiving cranberry sauce or Dom Perignon. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has produced interminable, largely unread reports on something called "marijuana use disorders," popularly known as smoking a ton of weed. "Marijuana use disorders," according to this federal agency, "are often associated with dependence — in which a person feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. People who use marijuana frequently often report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to two weeks." This is a description of everyone's college roommate working at Goldman who almost majored in outdoor rec and now has to get high every other weekend in the Hamptons to keep his life together.
But it is a mistake for upper-middle-class white people to assume that something they seem to enjoy without adverse consequences can be used safely by others lacking in social capital and, frankly, some of the life skills that allowed them to scale the ladders of meritocracy. In that sense, dope legalization is like free trade, lax immigration law, and the so-called sexual revolution, whose fruits have been blissful guilt-free sex — or so we thought: The post-Weinstein revelations about sexual harassment in Hollywood, Congress, and less rarefied workplaces are telling a different story — and delayed marriage for the wealthy and upper-middle class and the misery of broken homes and absent parents for those further down the economic ladder.
Pot smoking is the ultimate cultural expression of Boomer neoliberalism.
Study after study has shown that marijuana use can result in chronic, sometimes life-consuming anxiety. There is also increasingly good evidence that in certain individuals, cases which are nearly impossible to predict, marijuana may induce psychosis. Even Raphael Mechoulam, the researcher who superintended Israel's medical marijuana program, does not believe that the drug should be legal for recreational use and has insisted that it is especially dangerous for young people. Pot smoking has also been shown to increase one's risk of developing schizophrenic symptoms.
Why doesn't anyone care? Findings about the correlation between having children later in life and performance on standardized tests (rich careerist meritocrats have kids who largely end up being rich careerist meritocrats themselves: Knock me over with a feather!) get written up breathlessly in newspapers every day, but no one seems interested in the conclusion of researchers in Biological Psychiatry that the connection between marijuana and psychotic behavior was strong enough "to warrant a public health message."
The truth is, pot opponents are the only people who bother about the science here. The so-called climate-denialist (does that mean they don't believe in "climate"?) right and science-worshipping progressives are in almost total agreement about dope, something I realized years ago when, while only an intern, I ended up debating Mike Riggs — essentially the Stephen Hawking of pot — on the subject at the Reason office in Washington, D.C., because no one else under the age of 30 could be found to argue the anti position.
This is all the more remarkable because I have never yet heard any good arguments in favor of legalization. The line of argument that begins with "adults can do whatever they want with their own bodies provided that they are not harming anyone else" ends with the reasoner having to accept that a person can, with equal legitimacy, will his corpse to a cannibal dining society or entail himself to a high-paying necrophile so long as there is a valid contract in place. It is the sort of logic that is worthy of, well, a bunch of stoned teenagers in a dorm room.
Still, the most important plank of my anti-dope platform has to do with aesthetics rather than morality or science. Pot is, simply put, a very gross thing to enjoy. It smells bad; it is not elegant, unlike cigarettes (imagine Ingrid Berman ripping a bong in Casablanca), and can never be made so. Nor, unlike alcohol, is it an inexorable part of culture, celebrated by the poets of antiquity and enjoyed by our Savior Himself, who made it the subject of His first miracle. It is true that without weed we would not have Rubber Soul or Charlie Parker. But without cigarettes we wouldn't have won World War II. So why should poor put-upon cigarette smokers put up with further infringements upon their rights while the same people pretending to cough when they see us on the street corners to which we have been banished go home and toke up?
The modern world is ugly and miserable enough without weed.