Don't Legalize Marijuana: The Case for More Paternalism in America

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher responded (negatively and positively) to my weekend long column on CNN.com about pot use. I promised answers, and here they are.

Andrew first. Since Andrew does a point-by-point rebuttal, it's difficult to format a quotation from his piece. So I'll just send you over to his page - soon, alas to depart the Daily Beast - to read the whole thing. I'll wait here.

I want to be clear about some things in reply.

I do not think marijuana is America's #1 public health problem. That bad distinction goes to firearms - access to which I am also in favor of restricting and tightening.

I don't claim that marijuana is even the #1 drug problem. Tobacco is more deadly, alcohol blights more lives.

But here's where marijuana is different from other drugs. With every other drug, attitudes today are less permissive today than they were a generation ago. Public opinion is tougher on booze, tougher on pills, tougher on tobacco. With marijuana, and marijuana alone, we are moving in the wrong direction: toward more acceptance, and even more promotion.

With every social problem, we start from where we are. We already have a tobacco industry. Over the past 15 years, that industry's troubling marketing practices have been exposed. The question for today is: shall we create another such industry to market marijuana?

Nobody today argues that tobacco is anything other than a poison. Ask your doctor what counts as "moderate" consumption of alcohol, and she'll specify a weekly ration that Don Draper would have finished by Tuesday. Buying prescription drugs without a scrip is a serious legal offense, as Rush Limbaugh could tell you.

With marijuana, unfortunately, we hear influential voices telling people that this mind-altering drug is a "medicine" - and a uniquely benign medicine at that, since it comes out of the ground, not from a lab. Legalization is advocated not as part of a strategy to control and restrict, but as a way to engraft marijuana into a normal lifestyle.

Andrew says that my views on marijuana express cultural conservatism. It would be more accurate to say that I'm concerned by industries that exploit predictable human frailties. Here for example is my endorsement of Mayor Bloomberg's leadership on high-fructose carbonated drinks.

I've been very skeptical that most Americans will handle firearms as effectively as they imagine they will.

I haven't written about it recently, but I'm unhappy with the widespread reliance of state and local governments on lotteries as sources of finance.

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Is this conservatism? If so, it is in this sense best described by Edmund Burke:

We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would be better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages…