Misguided moves to normalize pot

Published on Saturday, 25 January 2014 21:06 - Written by

If there’s such a thing as damning by faint praise, is there praising by faint damns? Two major political figures have taken odd positions on marijuana recently, and the consensus seems to be that pot isn’t that bad, and perhaps we should rethink how we view the drug.

President Barack Obama says smoking pot is merely a bad habit.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he told a magazine recently. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

More surprisingly, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in Davos, Switzerland that he thinks marijuana should be decriminalized.

“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization,” he told the World Economic Forum.

Later, Perry’s spokesperson explained, “Legalization is no penalty at all, where as decriminalization doesn’t necessarily mean jail time (for minor possession offenses.) It means more of a fine or counseling or some sort of program where you don’t end up in jail but in a rehabilitative program.”

Obama acknowledges he smoked marijuana when he was young. But that wasn’t merely a “bad habit,” it was criminal activity — supported by a vast criminal enterprise.

There was a phrase much in vogue in the 1990s: “defining deviancy down.” It was coined by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, about the criminal justice system, but it applies here, too. Growing, distributing, purchasing, possessing and smoking marijuana are all crimes. They’re crimes because we, as a society, agree the activity is harmful and it impairs individuals (who may then go out and harm other individuals).

Some claim the criminal element of pot distribution will dry up when it’s legalized. Colorado is finding out that’s not the case. There’s still a black market selling dope to young people. There are still burglaries and robberies committed by people looking to get money to buy more. We don’t change the facts by calling those things “bad habits.”

Obama compares marijuana to smoking cigarettes, but that’s disingenuous. He roundly condemns smoking tobacco (as do health insurers).

Obama’s unsupported claim that marijuana isn’t as harmful as alcohol is worse than irrelevant. It’s misleading. Being hit by a car may not be as harmful as being hit by a train. That doesn’t mean that being hit by a car is a good thing.

Perry, on the other hand, has a point. Drug courts are a proven means of both reducing jail populations and helping people get off drugs — but this is a really important caveat — if they wish to do so. Not all do.

And at its core, Perry’s argument is for more local control and more options for judges from which to choose from. Those are good things.

But this is still a good example of why we have separate branches of government. In these cases, the executives are irresponsibly getting ahead of their counterparts in the legislative branches. That’s where important policy should be changed.