Lying: The Government's Drug

How Raich helps us delude ourselves


In my thankfully limited experience with observing addiction it has always seemed to me that the true "gateway drug" is not marijuana, or even California Coolers, but lying. First comes the nervous exaggeration, then the covering-up of various misdemeanors… and by the time those lies start sounding true, the main barrier to destructive behavior is access to the poison itself.

Well, the Supreme Court just gave the Drug War addicts in Congress and the White House the constitutional equivalent of a lifetime supply. No longer will the Commerce Clause present even a tiny weak spot on the dragon of national drug policy. As Drug Czar John Walters all but giggled Monday, "Today's decision marks the end of medical marijuana as a political issue."

Those who fret about morality in America, take note: Raich v. Gonzales codifies our status as a Nation of Liars.

Most of us—including vice presidents, Supreme Court nominees, governors, Beltway journalists—will sample illegal drugs during our lifetimes with zero negative long-term effects, and then vote every November for political parties who spend billions in tax dollars on nonsensical, ineffective ad campaigns like "Just because you survived drugs doesn't mean your kids will."

Our cops will lie about their pot-smoking past to get onto the force. Our diplomats, as I have observed personally, will lie about their pot-smoking past to get onto the Foreign Service, and in some cases enjoy the occasional recreational joint throughout the course of a distinguished and honorable career. Freelance journalists and other between-jobs white-collar workers will sooner leave the room than allow any second-hand pot smoke to seep into their systems, for fear of pre-employment drug tests at jobs that require no physical precision.

At the tip of the Lie Pyramid is Drug Czar Walters, which is hardly surprising, considering the Drug War's core fallacy. Despite using the fearful language and powerful tools of national emergency, governments on all levels are spending around $40 billion a year on a massive enforcement project in which 40 percent of all arrests are for possessing a drug that isn't remotely dangerous.

As any addict can tell you, a big lie needs to be supported by a network of smaller fibs, and so the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has willfully lied about stronger pot leading to more addiction, about the notion that marijuana "probably won't kill you" (ain't no "probably" about it); and, in what my colleague Ron Bailey described as a "horrific lie," about how recreational drug users directly finance terrorism. Walters has used federal tax money to campaign against state medical-marijuana initiatives, finished what Bill Clinton started with a doomed $1 billion advertising effort to convince Americans that their own harmless drug experiences were aberrational, and enthusiastically disguised a bunch of that as unlabeled pop culture propaganda.

The problem with constant lies, on an individual level, is that they're corrosive and addictive. Until you get caught, they can be an effective shortcut to a cherished goal, at the price of putting off urgent problems and creating new ones in their wake. When uttered collectively, with the full force of the government behind them, they can and have become powerful instruments to bash away at constitutional liberties that seemed untouchable 20 years ago.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in his majority opinion denying California medical marijuana users protection from federal agents who should have better things to do, pointed to "another avenue of relief"—Marijuana could be reclassified in the regulatory scheme, and "perhaps even more important than these legal avenues is the democratic process, in which the voices of voters allied with these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress."

Taking Stevens seriously means confronting head-on the tissue of lies that binds a policy that Americans themselves violate every day, with very few side effects. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) are reportedly reviving their amendment, voted down 272-153 two years ago, prohibiting federal law enforcement from spending one dime cracking down on medical-marijuana consumption now legal in 10 states. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has also recently introduced the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act.

There has been some commentary these past days from federalist-leaning analysts along the lines of "well, it's not likely to have much practical effect anyway, so no need to get too upset." While understandable, this sentiment essentially makes peace with violence. Pooh-poohing Washington's expansion of the War Against Marijuana is a strategy that has played out, and failed. It's the lie we don't believe anymore.