Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks published a column about his previous marijuana use and why he no longer smokes. In short, Brooks writes off the experience of marijuana for two reasons: on account of his developing "higher pleasures" like camping, science or literature and an argument that smoking is not something about which to be proud.
Most explicitly, Brooks laments Colorado and Washington's recent law changes and opines that marijuana usage should be barred because "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."
Not only does Brooks rashly misuse the power of his pen at perhaps the world's most revered source of journalism in a personal essay of self-righteousness and moral crusade, he more importantly completely ignores the real underlying issue of marijuana legalization: race and class.
Maybe it's hard to blame Brooks, a white, suburban graduate of the University of Chicago, for failing to understand that by and large, white youths in more upscale neighborhoods rarely face marijuana arrests and even citations.
Maybe his discourse about the habits of high school "potheads" – at least at wealthy, high-achieving high schools – has some merit and even a touch of sadness to it.
But it is disgustingly naive of him, an educated, assumedly well-informed journalist, not to even consider in this narcissistic diary entry the effects of marijuana criminalization on poor and minority youths in our nation.
A 2013 ACLU study found that more than half of all drug arrests in the U.S. are marijuana arrests. And though several studies show that marijuana use between white and black Americans is nearly even, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession more than whites by nearly a factor of four. This is not even to mention the justice disparity between mandatory minimums for powder and crack cocaine.
And it's not just race: you're 150 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana in Brooklyn than in Manhattan. Not because there's a higher percentage of weed smoking people in Brooklyn, but because law enforcement disproportionately target poorer neighborhoods for crime and violate privacy with stop-and-frisk policies. The same goes for similar communities across the country.
On top of that, in a time where our prisons are overcrowded and the for-profit prison system looks to throw more and more Americans behind bars (we lead the world in this category), more people in 2011 were arrested for marijuana than for violent crimes. According to the ACLU report, enforcing marijuana laws cost taxpayers about $3.6 billion every year, an absurd number for policies that unfairly target minorities and push the impoverished even deeper into the well.
What's more, according to a report by the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, "in most cases, a felony marijuana conviction – for example, growing marijuana – triggers the same collateral sanctions as those triggered by a conviction for murder, rape or kidnapping. In many cases, the collateral sanctions for a marijuana-related conviction actually exceed those for a violent crime."
In other words, a record for someone with a felony marijuana conviction trying to get a job or buy a house et al., can be more hindering than one with a murder conviction.
Forget that there is proof that decriminalization can actually reduce drug use (thanks, Portugal) and youth crime rates (California). Forget that decriminalization would regulate the marijuana industry and produce a monster sum of tax revenue. Forget that it is possible that the decreased price in marijuana could not only decimate youth crime rates but also place poor and minority youths into more mainstream part-time jobs.
Finally, forget that decriminalization and removal of collateral sanctions could save the professional life of an adult who, as a teenager, was arrested outside his own house after being frisked by a police officer because he had his hoodie up.
Brooks forgot all of it. He's lost in a supremacist dream that imagines marijuana laws won't be ignored, especially by poor and underprivileged minority youths. Forget a moral ecology making it harder to be "the sort of person most of us want to be." Brooks should first discard his moral elitism and recognize an America where an economic ecology has surely rendered it harder for some people to be as successful as himself.
Today's Overheard at UT: "We should legislate men's health to combat the War on Women."
Wade Scofield is a senior in religious studies and Latin. He can be reached at email@example.com.