New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus produced two of the year's most embarrassing commentaries on marijuana legalization, so naturally they were invited to discuss that issue on Meet the Press yesterday. They did not disappoint.
The most annoying thing about the segment is the jokey tone that Brooks establishes as soon as host David Gregory asks him about the recent New York Times editorial calling for the repeal of marijuana prohibition at the federal level:
Brooks: I disagree with them on the larger issue. I don't know what they've been smoking up there in the office. The haze is…
At this point Brooks is interrupted by uproarious laughter from Gregory and the other panelists, who apparently have never heard this ancient joke before. Despite that disadvantage, they understand Brooks' point: The position taken by his colleagues at the Times is so absurd that they must have been high when they wrote the editorial! Just like everyone who opposed alcohol prohibition must have been drunk! Trying to join in the mirth making, PBS NewHour anchor Judy Woodruff chimes in with, "They didn't inhale." Then, having finally understood the gravamen of Brooks' jest, she adds, "Maybe they did."
Perhaps we should cut Woodruff some slack, since she later confesses, "When I think of grass, I think of something to walk on. I think of pot as something you put a plant in." This provokes more merriment. It also raises the question: Exactly how old is Judy Woodruff? According to Wikipedia, she was born in 1946, which means she graduated college in the late 1960s. Hmm.
And the jokes keep coming:
Marcus: It is a vast social experiment. We do not know the outcome, except that the best evidence is that if you use marijuana as a teenager regularly, eight IQ points…and I don't know about the rest of the table, but I don't have eight to lose.
I believe her. But wait, there's more:
Woodruff: I think it's important to have the debate, but I wonder what's the rush.
Marcus: Pardon the pun.
I don't think I will. Yet when the panelists turn serious, their contributions are even lamer. Both Brooks and Marcus, while agreeing with those crazy potheads at the Times that states should be free to set their own marijuana policies, argue that legalization is a mistake…because of the children:
Brooks: I just don't think we can sanction—say for adults, fine, but if you're 18, you can't do it. That's just not gonna work, I don't think….
Marcus: I think for states to decide to go the full legalization route is a problem, precisely for my mommy reason, that you can say it's OK for adults, but everybody knows who has teenagers like me that…the fact that alcohol is legal increases their access to alcohol. Making marijuana readily, legally available will increase their—my kids are at home, laughing at me.
Maybe they are laughing at her because they see the folly in arguing that anything deemed inappropriate for children should be forbidden to adults as well. In any case, Brooks' concerns extend beyond children:
I don't think the government should be sanctioning activity that most of us mature out of, most of us age out of it. I just don't think it's the way we want to spend our minds….
The country is getting more libertarian on a lot of these issues, and it's "everyone should do what they want." But we're part of a community; we're part of a culture, where we're [affected] by each other's views and each other's values, and to me there's some role for the government playing some role in restraining some individual choice, just to create a culture of healthiness.
As Mediaite's Evan McMurry points out, the panelists never acknowledge the human cost of forcibly imposing their pharmacological prejudices on their fellow Americans. Although the total has declined from a peak of about 873,000 in 2007, police in the United States still arrest hundreds of thousands of people for marijuana offenses every year (about 750,000 in 2012), the vast majority for simple possession. It's true that most of these people do not spend much time behind bars. But the inconvenience, humiliation, financial drain, and ancillary costs of being treated like a criminal should not be forgotten amid all the marijuana-induced giggles. Nor should the fact that people can and do receive lengthy prison sentences, including life, merely for growing or selling a product that you can openly buy at state-licensed stores in Colorado and Washington. Funny stuff.