Sunday, January 5, 2014

Critics Harshly Slam David Brooks' Marijuana Column - But He's Not Entirely Wrong

Since posting his response to the "legalization" of recreational and commercial marijuana in Colorado (and coming soon in Washington) New York Times columnist David Brooks has been widely criticized - even chastised - by other commentators from Slate to more Slate to The Nation to Esquire. However, despite the critics' desire to portray his comments as aloof and misguided, Brooks' basic premise is not wrong, and his criticism of legalized cannabis is being distorted.

Brooks' basic argument - smoking weed is not generally a good thing and shouldn't be promoted or condoned - is a fairly accurate and innocuous statement, and one that is being greatly misinterpreted. For example, people have criticized Brooks for wanting to perpetuate the arrest and incarceration of millions for an arguably minor criminal offense, one that disproportionately affects minorities and the poor. Yet, David Brooks has not endorsed such problematic legal penalties and, in fact, has been on record as opposing such problems in our criminal justice system. Opposing legalization isn't the same as supporting the current legal ramifications for it. And neither Brooks, nor Ruth Marcus, argued for continued criminalization or harsh legal penalties for possession, use, or sales. Certainly, decriminalization of cannabis possession was a necessary change, and such an approach has functioned pretty effectively elsewhere in the world.

Additionally, comparisons between alcohol and marijuana are obtuse and knee-jerk reactions that at best obfuscate the issue and are inherently logically flawed. Arguing that one drug should be legal because another is already legal does not make a lot of sense. Simply put, having one potentially dangerous substance legal does not mean we should have two. If that were the case, proponents should be arguing for legalization of all illicit substances - and no one is doing that. And the comparison is not apt because the substances are not similarly used. Alcohol is not only an established industry and indelible part of the societal fabric, but it can be (and is) enjoyed without the requisite purpose of all other illicit drugs, which is to "get messed up." Certainly, the use and abuse of alcohol can have catastrophic consequences and shouldn't be praised or elevated either. America truly does have a drinking and substance abuse problem. And that is the point made by Brooks and Marcus - substance abuse is a problem.

Ultimately, I don't strongly oppose what Colorado and Washington and Uruguay have done, and I think it will be folded into the fabric of society pretty smoothly in the next decade or so. But there will be a lot of collateral damage that should not be celebrated. In general, doing drugs is simply not a good thing. That was the only point Brooks was making. And his critics have their panties in a bunch simply because they think he's an arrogant, elitist snob. Which is probably more or less true. But it doesn't make him wrong. Critics like to take shots at Brooks' philosophy, and he often makes himself an easy target for criticism as a sort of nerdy, wonkish, elitist. But the attacks on Brooks' marijuana column are off-base.

1 comment:

westmeetseast said...

I agree...Sometimes Liberals can be just as judgemental as Republicans and the reaction to Brooks' column proves just that.

Thank you for this courageous and nuanced post.