You know, there are actual policy consequences for the kind of “haha, the stoners came out!” attitude that President Obama, and the media, demonstrated towards the question about ending the prohibition of marijuana at the “digital town hall” event.
I was just watching MSNBC and they had some newsdouche on to talk about the event. Being members of the media, the host and the newsdouche mostly complained about how Obama was “leapfrogging” the media with the format. But the guy being interviewed took the time to snigger and laugh at the question about the reform of our marijuana laws, in much the same way Obama did. It’s not surprising. That’s the attitude of “serious” people everywhere, that advocating changing our destructive, futile, expensive and cruel marijuana laws has to demonstrate that the person so advocating is some burned-out, disaffected stoner who just wants to smoke up and tune out. You get that from the mainstream media and most of our national politicians all the time, the absolute refusal to take reforming our marijuana laws seriously. And that’s unfair, and corrosive to democracy, and has severe negative consequences for our policy.
First of all, even if everyone who supported the decriminalization of marijuana did so out of a simple desire to be able to smoke without fear of arrest, that would be a perfectly legitimate and principled stand. This is still a country where we are supposed to be allowed to live our lives in the manner that we want, provided that we don’t harm others or infringe on their own rights to self-determine. In democracy, you vote in part for politicians who support your interests, and you make political arguments for those policy positions that benefit your own self-interest. Hopefully, if everyone does that, the will of the people as a whole is done. So it’s not like there’s something disqualifying about people who just want to smoke marijuana and be left in peace by the government. And, of course, the use of the stoner meme plays on some deeply flawed assumptions and stereotypes, that everyone who smokes marijuana falls into the same (low class, trashy) groups. That’s one of the basic impediments to finding a little sanity in our drug laws, I’m afraid: the notion that anyone who uses marijuana is an unserious, unappealing person, and that anyone who advocates decriminalizing marijuana is similarly tainted.
And, of course, the basic libertarian impulse to leave people alone– still one of our greatest national features– is only a part of the reason to support reforming our marijuana laws. The other reasons are caught up in the utter failure of criminalization to prevent Americans from using marijuana, the massive financial costs of arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders, the waste of valuable police resources on enforcing marijuana laws, the numbers of nonviolent marijuana offenders sitting in our jails and costing us public money, the increase in police corruption and misconduct that is an inevitable part of drug criminalization, and the occasional tragedy where an arrest on a marijuana possession results in the injury or death of the accused, a police officer, or both. The costs to this country from the continued criminalization of marijuana are truly massive, and the payoff is negligible. Completely independent of any acknowledgment of a right to use marijuana is the simple cost/benefit analysis which suggest that our current system is madness.
All of this rests on what is now a banal fact: that polling consistently shows broad majorities of Americans who favor serious reform of our marijuana laws. The American people are a slow moving beast, but they aren’t completely resistant to evidence and logic, and the great costs that the prohibition of marijuana inflicts on our society hasn’t gone unnoticed. So why, if reforming marijuana laws is broadly popular, is the issue still largerly relegated to the backburner politically? Why is neither party willing to make decriminalizing marijuana a major part of their policy platform? Because even smart, pragmatic politicians like Barack Obama can’t help but make jokes about a sensible question about a worthy initiative– worthy enough, at least, of discussion. We can’t get either party on board with ending a cruel and wasteful set of drug policies because supposedly neutral reporters can’t help but get a laugh out of positions that are sensible, adult, and supported by millions of Americans.
Our attitude towards issues have consequences. Every laugh and giggle at the expense of those who want our country to reexamine a disastrous set of policies makes it less likely that we will embark on a series of changes that would leave our country pragmatically improved and more free.