David Brooks: Oh, the morality

David Brooks, who used marijuana when he was younger but was lucky enough to never be arrested for it, seems very sad about the moral message legalization is sending. From Brooks:

The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.

But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

If Brooks wants to talk about morality in the context of marijuana prohibition, lets talk morality.

I’m morally disgusted we have a system where even though white people tend to use marijuana at slightly higher rates than blacks, African-Americans are roughly four times more likely to be arrested for it. The racist nature of the war on marijuana from its inception up to its current implementation is morally abhorrent and one of the most direct examples of institutionalized racism in this country. It is true stain on the moral fabric of America.

Similarly, the rank hypocrisy of marijuana prohibition is sickening. The last three presidents, numerous top government officials and members of Congress used marijuana in the past yet continue to persecute people for doing the same. I doubt any one of them would say their past marijuana use was more damaging to their lives than being arrested/convicted would have been. It is likely Obama would never have become president if he’d been arrested for his drug use, yet he supports a system that cuts off the possibility for millions of young people who were just like him.

Finally, I think it is morally disgusting we waste billions of dollars locking adults in cages because they enjoy smoking a mostly harmless plant, money that could be used for everything from better schools to helping the poor. That is not a “moral ecology” I want to encourage.

The “person” I want must of us to be is one who doesn’t needlessly destroy lives, waste billions of dollars, and allow racist policies to continue just to send some moral message. That is why I support legalization.

Photo by ljlphotography, used under Creative Commons license