Al Gore III's arrest last week for pot and pill possession prompted a sharp Kathleen Parker column advocating marijuana legalization and a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed piece by the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman, in which he argues that treatment should replace jail for people with drug problems but that an arrest for possession does not necessarily mean someone has a drug problem (other than the obvious one created by the law):
If someone is busted with marijuana or another drug but they are not hurting anyone else, then they should not automatically be considered to have a drug problem. Leaving them alone may be better than forcing them into treatment and is clearly better than locking them up in a cage at taxpayer expense.
Gore's history—which includes a 2000 arrest for reckless driving, a 2003 marijuana arrest that occurred after he was pulled over for driving with his headlights off, and the speeding that led to his latest bust—suggests he may in fact have a drug problem that goes beyond his legal troubles (and that he may pose a hazard to others). In any event, as usual in these situations, he has checked into treatment, a development welcomed by his father.
It's not clear that the former vice president's son, who had Xanax, Valium, Vicodin, and Adderall in addition to about an ounce of marijuana in his Prius, is being treated any better than someone without his connections would be. In California (thanks largely to an initiative championed by DPA), this sort of drug offender typically would get treatment rather than jail. My main objection to these episodes in which famous people or their kin are caught with drugs is not so much the special treatment they receive as the fact that they tend to be fuckups, which reinforces the idea that all drug users are stupid, reckless, inconsiderate, and potentially dangerous. It's not surprising that fuckups are more likely to be arrested: They're the ones who go zooming along the San Diego Freeway at 100 miles an hour at 2:15 a.m. But the upshot is that the drug users who get the most attention are the ones who are most dysfunctional.
A.P. used Gore's arrest as an excuse to highlight "the growing problem of prescription drug abuse among America's youth." Following the government's lead, A.P. defines any nonmedical use of prescription drugs as "abuse," even if it helps people meet their responsibilities or otherwise enhances their lives. The article notes that stimulant "abuse" is especially common at highly competitive schools. Is the college student who uses Adderall to stay up so he can study for an important exam or finish a paper worse or better off as a result? And what if he celebrates his A by popping a Vicodin or two over the weekend? Does that mean he is destined for a life of addiction and degradation?
I am not denying that some people use these drugs to excess, causing harm to themselves and people close to them. Judging from his family's account, Al Gore III is one of those people. But he should not be seen as a typical prescription drug "abuser" (or pot smoker) simply because he's conspicuous.