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January 08, 2013

David Frum’s “Bad Parent” Argument Against Marijuana Legalization

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David Frum

David Frum

David Frum’s latest argument in his continuing fact-free war against marijuana legalization (which overlooks prohibition’s enormous negative consequences) seemingly rests on the notion that he is a bad parent.

As far as I can tell, Frum is basically arguing that he needs everyone else to pay for maintaining an expensive prohibition enforcement scheme to make it easier for him to encourage his kids not to make a bad decision. From Frum:

Yet as a parent of three, two exiting adolescence and one entering, I’ve found that the argument that makes the biggest impression is: “Marijuana is illegal. Stay away.” I think many other parents have found the same thing.

When we write social rules, we always need to consider: Who are we writing rules for? Some people can cope with complexity. Others need clarity. Some people will snap back from an early mistake. Others will never recover.

“Just say no” is an easy rule to follow. “It depends on individual risk factors, many of them unknowable in advance” — that rule is not so easy.

To begin with, the data indicates this “just say no” rule Frum is talking about has been a complete failure. America has some of the strictest anti-marijuana laws yet has among the highest rates of marijuana use, according to the UN World Drug Report. Portugal, where all drugs have been decriminalized for a decade, and the Netherlands, where marijuana has been defacto legal for over a generation, both have dramatically lower prevalence of use rates than the United States. Prohibition has done a terrible job of convincing people not to use marijuana.

Even if Frum actually thinks the threat of legal action is an effective parenting tool on this issue, the current marijuana legalization efforts won’t change that. I have yet to meet any serious reform activist pushing for legalization without any age limits. For example, both the new Colorado and Washington State laws set the age limit for marijuana use at 21. Marijuana would still be illegal for his kids. If Frum really thinks this tactic works, he can still tell his children not to use marijuana because doing so would be illegal for them.

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