The Nation's Pulse

Legalize It

The push to legalize drugs gets a shot in the arm.    

By 1.21.11

Three items from the recent news that even a cynical bastard like me thought could never happen:

• Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi has voluntarily turned over the speakership to John Boehner, thereby avoiding the potentially ugly, but totally radical spectacle of Republican stormtroopers taking the Capitol by force.

• Nicolas Cage has somehow managed to make an even worse movie (Season of the Witch) than his last worst movie (The Wicker Man).

• Pat Robertson has called for legalizing pot.

As Hunter S. Thompson used to say, "We are living in dangerously weird times." It's true. Last month the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network told his television audience that marijuana should be decriminalized. Not because he has developed a strange new appreciation for Cheech and Chong movies, but because, in his words, "it's ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals."

There's just one small problem: Pat was about as confused by the facts as Kirstie Alley is by a salad fork. Evidently, the Rev. Robertson thinks states are imprisoning teens that take a couple hits off a joint:

We're locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they've got 10 years with [a] mandatory sentence…

FACT CHECK: No one is going to prison for a decade for a couple puffs of the magic dragon, even with some states' three strikes legislation. Most felony drug convictions are for dealing the hard stuff. Even so, it was one of those moments that makes you check the calendar to see if it's Opposites Day, or wonder if you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up lost in some freaky parallel universe.

It used to be the only people calling for legal pot were the half-baked fans of The Big Lebowski and certain Nobel Prize-winning economists. Nowadays, the only ones who think marijuana should not be legalized are the uplifters in the Obama Administration, one lawnmower mom in Dubuque, and the Beer Industry (because they sincerely CARE ABOUT YOUR HEALTH).

More crazy -- I mean controversial -- is the suggestion to legalize all dope.

ANOTHER WEIRD THING that made headlines this month was conservative pundit and noted drug pusher John McWhorter's piece in the New Republic in which he, like Britain's former Drug Tsar Bob Ainsworth (the Brits spell czar with a TS because it makes them feel superior), called for the legalization of ALL drugs. McWhorter notes that America has two major problems: drugs and race. Not to worry, though. He has the solution for both: End the endless war on drugs:

With no War on Drugs there would be, within one generation, no "black problem" in the United States. If there were no way to sell drugs on the street at a markup, then young black men who drift into this route would instead have to get legal work. They would. Those insisting that they would not have about as much faith in human persistence and ingenuity as those who thought women past their five-year welfare cap would wind up freezing on sidewalk grates.

Here's what we know: Wars against social problems (poverty, drugs, illiteracy, teen pregnancy) work about as well as Prof. Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment, and only slightly better than our urban public schools. And prohibition worked only for Al Capone. And nobody else has any ideas.

So why not give it a shot? The great fear is that legalizing heroin, etc., will turn America into a land of useless, leeching junkies -- like Seattle. I'm not so sure I'd mind that. Think of all the hipsters who will be too stoned to vote. Also, it might free up a lot of jobs for people like me who don't really have any useful skills to begin with, so we'd be solving the unemployment problem too.

We could try it first in my hometown of St. Louis. I say we give it five years. If St. Louis dissolves into a kind of dystopian nightmare where everyone becomes a gun-toting junkie and robs everyone else to buy drugs (in other words, if it stays pretty much the way it is now), then we can call the pilot program a qualified success. If the situation worsens… well, how could it possibly get any worse?

Okay, we've just solved this nation's three most intractable problems, drugs, race and unemployment. I'm off for a beer, before the president declares war on Pabst.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.