Letters

|

Pot Pegs

Jacob Sullum does a wonderful job explaining why pushing marijuana's comparative harmlessness or its usefulness won't work ("Selling Pot," June). But I don't think stressing the injustice of prohibition will work either. Sympathetic victims of the law disappear as penalties decrease.

Arguments for legalization based on civil liberties probably won't work either. There are too many people who will happily throw away rights they don't have an immediate use for, in exchange for an illusory benefit. I also constantly hear the cries of those who feel that somehow their "right" not to have their morality offended by people with whom they rarely make contact is the most important "right" of all. Politicos like Bill Bennett and Bob Martinez need these people.

The strongest arguments that can be effectively used are probably the pragmatic ones: 1) We've spent hundreds of billions on this war and haven't accomplished a thing. 2) Those billions came out of your pocket. 3) The violence spawned by prohibition could well result in your robbery or death. 4) Decriminalization did not lead to a tidal wave of pot abuse. 5) Education is vastly more effective at preventing drug abuse than law enforcement. 6) To legalize is not the same as to condone. It is to create some control where none now exists.

Chris Rising
Santa Clarita, CA

What is missing for me in Jacob Sullum's otherwise excellent essay is an attack on the real force behind this contemporary medicalization movement: those drug-policy reformers advocating the "public-health approach" to drugs and addiction. What these charlatans propose is to resurrect the ideas of Benjamin Rush, father of American psychiatry and the temperance movement.

Rush medicalized socially deviant behavior. He invented mental illness and argued that people who used hard liquor were sick. Drug-policy reformers argue that drugs should be legalized because people who want to use them are sick. The sicknesses include glaucoma, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, pain from terminal illness, and addiction.

I submit that the real drug mistakes are to repeat the attitudes about drugs that culminated in Prohibition, as well as those toward addiction following repeal, i.e., the idea that addiction is a treatable disease. Liberty is threatened either way.

Jeffrey A. Schaler
Silver Spring, MD

Jacob Sullum seems to blame the reformers for the lazy, biased, subservient, and corrupt coverage by the mass media while missing several fundamental items that point toward the root of the problem.

If our Constitution is to mean anything, citizens must be free to make their own decisions about their own personal health and welfare (excluding behavior that is a clear and present danger to others), especially in regard to holy seed-bearing herbs that have been used since time immemorial to ease pain and suffering. The right to self-medicate would be inviolate in a free society. This would be true even if all the drug-war horrors were effects of the plants rather than the bans.

Plant prohibitions are based solely on hearsay and emotional pleas from racists ignorant of the plant's pharmacology. Science, medicine, history, and law-enforcement needs played no rational role in outlawing some of the most useful plants on the planet.

Personal use is a phony issue. Prohibition has stopped virtually no one from smoking or eating hemp. In fact, it has probably increased the number of those familiar with pot. But prohibition has completely stopped the American farmer from growing the premier renewable crop for fuel, fiber, food, paper, protein, and oil for the free agricultural market. Prohibition is a huge taxpayer subsidy to fossil fascism, organized crime, and the police.

Cullen Stuart
Lincoln, ME

The "smoke a joint, lose your license" provision of the 1990 U.S. transportation appropriation act, mentioned by Jacob Sullum, requires, as a condition for receiving certain future federal funds, only that a state's legislature consider, not necessarily pass, legislation requiring driver's-license suspensions for all drug offenses. At New Yorkers for Drug Policy Reform, we're trying to inform our state's legislators of that distinction. At least one other state has taken the opt-out path and rejected such legislation.

Robert Goodman
Bronx, NY

As a drug-policy activist who came of age during the current war on drugs instead of '70s decrim, I thought "Selling Pot" was an excellent account of why my friends from the late-'70s movement were so wrong about the imminence of marijuana legalization. But Mr. Sullum is on the wrong track when he dismisses the viability of industrial and medicinal hemp products.

This year, Australia, Kazakhstan, and the United Kingdom have acknowledged the folly of prohibiting low-THC hemp cultivation. The crop can be used for ecologically sound fuel, paper, clothes—staples which current methods have made artificially expensive and polluting. All that's needed is to redefine marijuana under state and federal law.

The medicinal issue hits even closer to home for me. My father, a medical professional, was recently diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, treatable through chemotherapy. Should he be jailed if he needs to self-medicate with cannabis brownies to tolerate chemo-poisoning?

If drug-policy elites truly desire harm reduction now, they should support timely political and lobbying activities rather than merely criticizing the inappropriate tactics of some of the grass roots (pun definitely intended) of our movement.

Douglas Greene
Cedarhurst, NY

Mr. Sullum replies: A careful reading of my article will show that I did not dismiss the commercial viability of hemp. My point was that even if we accept all of the hemp movement's claims (and I do accept most of them), its approach is wrong for a general audience because it needlessly complicates the issue and invites skepticism.

Principles and Purity

Paul Weaver is right on the mark when he says that "the private sector has been no haven of decency and principle" ("Do-Good Libertarianism," May). Libertarians' failure to stress this fact created this result, for example:

Twice during 1992, Andre Marrou was contacted by talk-show host Michael Harrison of WTIC-AM in Hartford, Connecticut. The first time, Marrou responded to a Ralph Nader criticism by saying, "Big business never hurt anybody." The second time, Marrou mentioned drivers taking turns at a dead stoplight as an example of private citizens functioning without government. As soon as the interview was over, Harrison told his audience about private citizens fighting each other for parking spaces. Most libertarians, he said, seem to be nice people, but they are out of touch with the real world.

Weaver did omit one point: Some of the private sector's bad behavior is caused by the state's high taxes and regulations. Libertarians should stress this, too. Then they should continue to teach honesty, tolerance, and logic, and attack injustice wherever it occurs.

George N. Smith
New Hartford, CT

Paul Weaver seems to be making the point that for libertarians to become more of a force in the political arena they must become less of what they are. Does Mr. Weaver really believe that libertarians need to become glad-handers and do-gooders to become more effective? If so, then he seems to believe that the way to become successful is to become like the enemy, i.e., like the Democrats and Republicans.

It is essential that we remain true to our principles, but that we become a little less shrill and a little more rational and reasonable so we may expand our base in the electorate. I disagree completely with Mr. Weaver's statement that politics is not a debate. It most definitely is. And the job for libertarians is to redefine that debate. Once the debate is defined properly, libertarians will "win" because they have the better answers; they will win because they will be seen as offering a real alternative to the prevailing political wisdom.

To say politics is more community than combat has a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling about it. But it really doesn't say much about how to implement a plan of attack to change the status quo. I would argue that libertarians could stand to start emphasizing more of the positives of their program rather than the negatives of the opposition, this being very clear from a reading of the Libertarian platform, which has too much of the "we-condemn-this-we-oppose-that" quality to it. A broad outlining and emphasizing of the principles of libertarianism will in and of itself present a positive message that the American people can relate to.

Most importantly, to say the libertarians have been "squishy soft" as regards injustice is to totally ignore the point of the libertarian perspective—namely, to create an environment in which injustice cannot survive, to ensure that the law honestly reflects the ideals of individual rights and property and in which government knows and respects the limits of its power. Libertarians understand well how government can overstep its bounds and how the law can be perverted into an instrument of injustice.

Jeffrey P. Wills
Cleveland, OH

Paul Weaver argues that fully informed juries would "introduce into the legislative process an independent veto power that would be present every time someone attempted to administer a legitimate act of the state." My experience has led me to believe that government rarely limits itself to "administer[ing] legitimate act[s] of the state." Too many people I have known have been damaged and denied restitution by the unchecked state.

The courts, including the Supreme Court, rarely act to stop the state's exponential growth. But ultimately the citizens, who are sovereign in the sense that all government exists by their consent, have the power to slow that growth by their three votes, one at elections, one on a grand jury, and one on petit juries.

The Jeffersonian Republicans made extensive use of this "vague common-law tradition" to keep the Federalist Alien and Sedition Acts relatively toothless. If citizen juries were fully informed of their right to nullify, I doubt American juries would set free ax-murderers and child molesters any more than they do now.

I do believe that we would see fewer jurors weeping that they didn't want to put an 18-year-old first offender in prison for 10 years, but the judge said you must reach a verdict based on the letter of the law. As a non-violent person who could conceivably get into some legal trouble at some time in my life, I would prefer the jury of my peers to be fully aware of their power and responsibility to judge the law as well as me before they reach their verdict.

Brendan Trainor
Sparks, NV

Mr. Weaver replies: I thank George Smith for his comments and say amen to his concluding paragraph.

As for Mr. Wills's letter, it typifies the attitudes I was critiquing in my essay. On the one hand, Mr. Wills wants you to respect his rights and promises he'll respect yours. On the other hand, he doesn't acknowledge any independent connection with you. In effect, he wants a policy outcome but rejects the human relationships on which such an outcome would rest. Mr. Wills's limited government hangs from a political skyhook.

Mr. Wills's view is not only wrong in principle but ineffective in practice. We live in a world in which the central political game consists of touting private privilege in the name of the public interest. After a century of such manipulation, the public has caught on to the scam, and conventional liberalism and the welfare state it built have lost all credibility as a result. Classical liberalism could be the alternative the American people turn to, but only if they are assured that the ideals of Locke and Madison aren't just another high-minded ripoff. Specifically, they need to be reassured that today's classical liberals completely reject the abuse of classical-liberal principles by the movement to defend racial segregation and by business groups opposing big government in others' interest while lobbying for it in their own interest.

The solution to this problem is obvious. It is—as I was arguing in my piece—for classical liberals to start practicing in private what they preach in public, by getting mad about injustice and becoming do-gooders and idealists and glad-handers. Mr. Wills's fear that this will turn libertarians into Democrats and Republicans is nonsense. Acting locally in behalf of what we preach globally is merely a formula for making classical liberalism practical and political. It means dragging libertarians out of the box of their adolescent negativism and getting them to practice the arts of citizenship in behalf of their superior concept of political life. Mr. Wills sneers that such notions are too warm and fuzzy for words. I say, That's life.

With respect to Mr. Trainor's plea for the Fully Informed Jury Amendment: While I agree that bad laws should be applied with maximum leniency, surely the main thing to do about such laws is to criticize them and work to repeal them. The effort to create an undefined loop-hole through which a few lucky souls may escape some of those laws' consequences some of the time strikes me as a foolish distraction.

Cultural Conceptions

I read with interest Virginia Postrel's "Uncommon Culture" (May). I recommend a conceptualization of culture that has potential for clarifying public discussions of this issue. It is one proposed by José Ortega y Gasset in Man and Crisis: A society's culture is its "repertory of solutions" to the problem of human life.

By this definition, individuals of different races and ethnicities live in the United States, now as always. But the United States has never had, and does not have now, many cultures. The United States is virtually monocultural, and two fundamental elements of that culture are democracy and freedom.

One seldom hears anyone argue that public power should reside other than where it does reside in the United States and in other representative democracies—with the representatives of the people. Further, individual freedom is virtually never challenged directly, except in totalitarian states. But because I also agree with Ortega that "always and everywhere, public power tends to recognize no limits whatsoever," I am alert—as any libertarian is alert—to the ongoing tensions between democracy and freedom in our nation.

Mark Jackson
Palo Alto, CA

I enjoyed Virginia Postrel's rendition of the slightly mouldy pro-immigration oldie, "America is an Experiment that Works." Unfortunately, it was pegged to a significant misreading of my cover story in the June 22, 1992, National Review.

The "experiment" discussed there was not immigration in general but the actual situation caused by the 1965 Immigration Act. Apart from triggering renewed mass immigration after a 40-year hiatus and allowing skill levels to deteriorate precipitously by placing "family reunification" above economic considerations, Washington also in effect choked off immigration from traditional sources in favor of arbitrarily selected Third World countries.

The result, given Americans' currently low fertility rate, is that the U.S. ethnic balance is suddenly shifting—from nearly 90-percent white in 1960 to less than 73-percent white in 1990. Maybe it's uncouth to mention this. But the fact remains that there is no precedent for a polity undergoing such an ethnic transformation in the entire history of the world.

I don't see why libertarians should be complacent about the perverse government intervention that constitutes current immigration policy. And I also think libertarians must now ask themselves if certain common values, and even the absence of ethnic strife, may not, like property rights, be part of the "metamarket" framework required by a functioning free market. Before it's too late.

They might find it helpful to know that Milton Friedman, in part of my cover story uncited by Postrel, says baldly that there are cultural prerequisites for capitalism.

Peter Brimelow
New York, NY

Ms. Postrel replies: I thank Mr. Jackson for his insight, which I believe is essentially true. Indeed, the purpose of my essay, including its discussion of America's many "subcultures," was to explore the nature of the American culture in this broader sense.

In that pursuit, my primary interest in Mr. Brimelow's sprawling National Review article was not its general discussion of immigration policy but those portions concerned with defining what it is to be an American. Mr. Brimelow suggests both there and in his letter that the American character is defined ethnically and that it is bizarre and dangerous to form a "nation," rather than a mere "polity," out of more than one ethnic group. Confusing culture with ethnicity—and heaping scorn on the notion that America is not just a place or a race but a set of ideas and attitudes—he thus defines authentic Americans not by their values or actions but by their blood. This is nonsense and, though I hate to use the charged term, profoundly un-American.

Having first equated "culture" with "ethnicity," Mr. Brimelow proceeds to equate "ethnicity" with "race." This allows the claim that the current influx of "non-whites" from many nations has changed American ethnicity, and therefore culture, in a way that the earlier influx of Irish, Italians, Scandinavians, Slavs, Japanese, Chinese, and Jews did not. A country settled mostly by Britons, Germans, and Africans survived that transformation with its underlying individualist culture intact; it will surely survive this one. The "mouldy" ideas that sent Tories like Mr. Brimelow fleeing to Canada in the late 18th century will even survive the influx of talented but wrongheaded British writers and editors.

The core of our disagreement appears to be this: Mr. Brimelow declares, along with the left-wing multiculturalists, that American values and culture are inherently white and European, possibly narrowly Anglo-Saxon, not only in their origins but in their application. He finds assimilation unnatural, something that must be forced on people against their will. By contrast, I believe American culture appeals to the universal human longing for self-definition and the pursuit of happiness, a longing that has nothing to do with the color of one's skin or the language of one's ancestors. Mr. Brimelow believes American culture is fragile and unattractive. I believe it is strong and almost irresistible.

Advertisement