Joe Klein: Marijuana Next

With Republicans in a chaotic retreat on social issues like gay marriage and immigration, some conservatives are looking for places to set up a skirmish line. Pete Wehner proposes marijuana as the bright line today in the Washington Post.

I’ve been for legalization for years. But I think Wehner’s argument deserves a respectful read because he raises at least one crucial question for our society. Most of his arguments against dope come from a different era. He assumes a bright line between alcohol and “drugs.” He assumes that marijuana is the entry drug on an inevitable path toward addiction. (He also seems to infer that marijuana is addictive.)

Most of these arguments seem ridiculous to anyone who has inhaled. Alcohol is a more controllable drug than marijuana—you can pace yourself according to consumption; pot strength is unpredictable—but when used to excess it is far more problematic, more violent, more dangerous. Pot is peaceful, contemplative, fattening.

Does marijuana lead to harder drugs? No more than alcohol does. Back in the 1930s, smoking dope was a leap into a sometimes dangerous underground culture. That’s not true any more, especially in states like Colorado and California. Alcohol is as likely an entry point to the world of mind-altering substances as pot is. Those who move on to harder drugs—and the infinitesimal minority who get hooked on harder drugs—would do so if marijuana were legal or not.

Would more people move on to drug-addled dissolution if marijuana were legalized? Wehner thinks so; I’m not so sure. But here’s where Wehner has a point: legalization of marijuana would compound the cascade of society toward unlimited individual rights—a trend that can be catastrophic if there isn’t a countervailing social emphasis on personal and civic responsibility. It might well accelerate the trend toward the couchification of American life; it certainly would not be a step toward the social rigor we’re going to need to compete in a global economy.

I’m for legalizing marijuana. It is a relatively mild, non-addictive drug. It is simply illogical for alcohol to be legal and pot not. But I’m also for searching out some civic rituals—some form of national service—that will inoculate young people with the understanding that they are part of something larger than themselves, that helping others, sacrificing a tiny increment of your freedom to make your community a better place, can be a different sort of high. Because if, in the mad dash toward pleasure and passivity, we lose track of our citizenship and the rigorous demands of a true working democracy, we may lose the social webbing that makes the pursuit of happiness possible.

Joe Klein is TIME’s political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, “In the Arena,” covers national and international affairs.

– Original article from TIME. Used with permission.



  1. Anonymous on

    An interesting read. I agree that one main reason Alcohol is legal and pot is not is the control aspect. When (not if) Pot is legal the government will have lost all control as it could become as common as the backyard Tomato’s in the summer. This is what the governments of the world are truly afraid of. The problem is Cannabis is rather easy to grow plant like any other. It’s a stretch to imagine the whole world showing up to work stoned, and that risk has been (and is) just as real as with booze. Times are a changing and government must realize you can’t legislate morality, responsibility, or productivity. It’s time to educate and allow people to live their lives as they choose. Pot is not evil and we most common sense folk know that -in fact the benefits to society have been ignored for far too long. Cannabis is one of the most useful plants put on this planet and its time society accepted that. Like anything else some people will abuse it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a responsible choice for all who enjoy a little enlightenment and relief from the harsh realities of our ever stressed planet.

  2. Mrs. Ratsrectum on

    Joel Klein and I share many political views. I like to hear his take on things watching him on the evening squawk shows, usually MSNBC.

    Congratulations, Joel.

    This article might sell more of this edition.

    I hope you can help the cannabis legalization movement get through to the politicians. Some of them have thick skulls, especially the right-wing and libertarian style Republicans. Hey, I’m all for personal responsibility, but if there simply aren’t enough jobs for everybody you don’t let them starve or kill them of in a ghetto or prison. I’m also all for capitalism, but it can’t be unbridled at the expense of everybody else who is trying to get rich but can’t. Everybody can’t get rich. It’s simply impossible for EVERYBODY to get rich. It’s simply foolish to assert that EVERYONE has an equal opportunity to get rich. They don’t. It takes a lot of capital, money or brainpower. The corporations tend to make people rich these days: record companies, book companies, Microsoft, Apple, or some other big-ass company that discovers you/your idea or invention because it’s to their economic advantage.

    When I hear you yakking about legalization on MSNBC with Scarborough, motormouth Matthews, or on CNN or on FoxNews with O’Reilly or Hannity and the like, I’ll believe the meme might be leading to legalizaton.