David Brooks on Pot: Because This Is Not to My Taste, No One Else Should Be Able to Enjoy It



Matt Welch makes a couple of important points in response to David Brooks' amazingly obtuse anti-pot column in today's New York Times: Declining to ban something is not the same as endorsing it, and there is nothing "subtl[e]" about using violence to stop people from consuming psychoactive substances that you fear will prevent them from realizing their full potential. I would add that the judgment Brooks pats himself on the back for passing (since "many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use") cannot possibly justify the arbitrary distinctions drawn by our drug laws, even if you share his paternalistic premise.

"I don't have any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time," Brooks says, but "smoking all the time" is "likely to cumulatively fragment a person's deep center, or at least not do much to enhance it." He thinks people should not smoke pot so much that they forgo the "more satisfying pleasures" and "the deeper sources of happiness." Instead they should be guided by "reason, temperance and self-control."

As I point out in my book Saying Yes, the same could be said of any enjoyable activity that can be carried to excess. Drinking is the most obvious example, but any pleasure can be the focus of an addiction that crowds out more meaningful aspects of life. That is not an argument for abstinence, let alone abstinence enforced by law. It is an argument for temperance, in the original sense of the term. Like most drug warriors, Brooks makes no effort to explain why the possibility of excess justifies the prohibition of marijuana but not the prohibition of alcohol and every other fun thing. His argument brings to mind Marge Simpson's case against mixed martial arts competitions: "Call me a killjoy, but I think that because this is not to my taste, no one else should be able to enjoy it."

That is the impulse underlying marijuana prohibition, which is fundamentally a matter of taste. David Brooks is not satisfied with railing against pot from his perch at the Times. He needs to impose his pharmacological preferences by force. Because he used to smoke pot but does not care for it anymore, he wants to lock people in cages for supplying it. There is nothing moral about that demand.