Vice Squad
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Advice to the Drug Czar -- No, Really

Yesterday I mentioned Ethan Nadelmann's fine article on marijuana legalization in the June 12 National Review. At some point, Nadelmann connects up the medical marijuana controversy with the overall legalization movement:

"The medical marijuana effort has probably aided the broader anti-prohibitionist campaign in three ways. It helped transform the face of marijuana in the media, from the stereotypical rebel with long hair and tie-dyed shirt to an ordinary middle-aged American struggling with MS or cancer or AIDS. By winning first Proposition 215, the 1996 medical-marijuana ballot initiative in California, and then a string of similar victories in other states, the nascent drug policy reform movement demonstrated that it could win in the big leagues of American politics. And the emergence of successful models of medical marijuana control is likely to boost public confidence in the possibilities and virtue of regulating nonmedical use as well."

But I want to point out a fourth connection. The passion with which medical marijuana has been opposed by many drug warriors is (probably inadvertently) revealing to many Americans who are not particularly committed one way or the other on drug prohibition. What they see in drug warriors are people who are willing to embrace policies -- keeping helpful medicines away from very sick and even dying people -- that seem (and are) needlessly cruel and uncompassionate. The fact that some drug warriors -- who no doubt are quite decent people -- are willing to endorse such policies is evidence that their judgment has been clouded by a moral intolerance of drugs. And once they have demonstrated clouded judgment on medical marijuana, it becomes easy to believe that their opinions on other drug policies are similarly warped by moral fervor.

So, for what it is worth, my advice to drug warriors is that they work for legal methods for sick people to acquire marijuana. They might want to think about the words of George Ade in his 1931 book on saloons: "The ultra-Drys have had their day in court, and now they are in danger of getting on the nerves of those who do not happen to absolutely agree with them. They are so militant in their goodness that they attribute the basest motives to all opponents. They should remember that the American public will not stand for intolerance, in the long run, and that it has a way of jumping from one extreme to another...[pp. 169-70]."

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