The Spectacle Blog

Jerry Brown’s Attack on Weed

By on 3.4.14 | 11:07AM

“The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

So said California Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press.” In the eyes of progressives, Brown’s opposition to the growing movement to legalize marijuana has been one of his flaws since he ran against it in 2010.

When Colorado and Washington passed bills legalizing pot in 2012, Brown adopted the federalist position that states should reserve the right to determine drug policy.

To the dismay of progressives, yesterday’s remarks reveal that his statements on the 2012 initiatives were indeed support for a federalist policy, not an easing toward legalization.

Suspecting that the policies will fail, Brown urges us to wait and see how Colorado's and Washington’s progressive experiments work out:

And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?

But this rationale for keeping pot illegal differs from his argument back in 2010:

Every year, we get more and more marijuana, and every year we find more guys with AK-47s coming out of Mexico going into forests…and growing more and more…dangerous…and losing control.

He is no longer criticizing possible systemic problems that would arise from legalizing cannabis, but the drug itself. Marijuana causes people to be inert, and in our present society, that is the last thing we’d want from citizens.

Brown’s surprisingly conservative argument against cannabis tempts the recurring objection, which Peter Hitchens calls the “wot abaht alcohol and tobacco” argument.

Even if alcohol has the potential to yield unproductive citizens, in moderation it doesn’t. Alcohol and tobacco are social drugs. It’s possible they are social drugs only because they have been customarily accepted, but custom has a lot more clout than proponents of legalization give it.

Custom plays a crucial role in forming law. Through thousands of years of societies distilling and brewing and thus dealing with the effects of alcohol, we know what to expect and can make laws accordingly. Yes, hangovers decrease productivity. But that is something we understand and accept. We’re aware of practically all the damages of alcohol. As a society, we have a general understanding of how much to drink, and have given alcohol a traditional role as well. The conservative of Hume and Burke understands that laws are best that conform to the dictates of custom.

Hitchens provides a great example, all while handing the objection right back to the “wot abahts.” Were our current society absolutely foreign to alcohol and suddenly discovered it, given the damage caused by its worst abuses, it would be wise to oppose it.

But because alcohol is deeply rooted in custom, it lacks the unknowns present in banned substances.

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