Marijuana legalization: One toke over the line?

Leo Morris Submitted photo

I hate to admit it, being a member in good standing of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy, but I tried marijuana in my younger days.

More than once. And I inhaled.

Furthermore, I enjoyed the experience. It left me in a dazed and happy stupor, free of the anxieties that gritty reality often sends to gnaw at our contentment. And without the unsavory side effects of alcohol numbing, especially the falling down part and the waking-up-sick-to-death part.

I grew out of it, as they say, for the usual reasons, I suppose. Flouting the law is a serious impediment to career-building. Rebellion is a young person’s conceit. And, to paraphrase Dean Wormer in the movie "Animal House," “Dazed, dumb and drooling is no way to go through life, son.”

Acknowledging this youthful lapse in judgment, I realize, will make it difficult for me to join in the conversation about drug policy. No matter which position I take, it will be called into question.

If I say that marijuana is far less dangerous than either alcohol or tobacco and that the country needs to rethink an anti-drug policy that has spent billions in failure, I will be dismissed as a raging libertine who just wants his wantonness endorsed.

If I say, on the other hand, that states should slow down in their mad rush to normalize weed because, 1) developing research indicates it might be far more dangerous than we suppose, and 2) it’s insane to legalize something at the state level that’s still illegal at the federal level, I will be accused of rank hypocrisy.

One big hassle.

But I felt I had to come clean and follow the example of Gov. Eric Holcomb, who bravely revealed recently that he used marijuana while a student at Hanover College in southern Indiana. He’s not exactly what I would call a conservative, but he is a respectable Chamber of Commerce Republican who dutifully follows the business community’s directions. If he can own up to a misspent youth, how can I do less?

He says that, despite his history, he will not change his opposition to the legalization of either medical or recreational marijuana because he wants to stay in line with federal law, so it seems he is comfortable with the hypocrisy label.

(Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, by the way, has us both beat by miles on that score. While a student at Princeton in 1970, he was nabbed along with two roommates with enough marijuana to fill two shoeboxes, LSD and “quantities of prescription drugs.” He could have faced felony charges and a couple of years in prison but got off with a $350 fine. Then in 1989, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he supported harsh penalties for even casual drug users, penalties that could destroy young lives for doing what he got only a slap on the wrist.)

I am reminded of a work colleague in my newspaper days who several years ago confessed that she felt guilty for punishing her daughters for exactly the same kind of shenanigans she pulled as a youngster. I told her she wasn’t being a hypocrite – her job had merely changed. As a child, her job was to test limits. As a parent, her job was to set them. I am sure she appreciated the encouragement. There’s nothing a parent likes better than advice from someone without children.

That brings up another way to look at youthful indiscretions. We shouldn’t just be forgiven for them on the grounds that everyone was once young and stupid. We should look on them as assets.

There is a school of thought holding that only people who have experienced (or can experience) something are allowed to have opinions about it. Only women’s opinions of abortion are valid. Only veterans are qualified to debate war. Only minorities have moral authority on civil rights questions.

Based on that, Gov. Holcomb and I are uniquely qualified to discuss drug policy, although we could probably use expert advice from Mitch Daniels. I also could get moral support from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is still in the young-and-stupid stage and is said to be fine with a president who smokes weed while in office and believes the main problem with marijuana legalization is that it overwhelmingly enriches white males.

I’ll start the discussion: Marijuana is nowhere near as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco, but we are rushing to legalize it before thinking it through clearly.

Hope that helps.

Leo Morris is a columnist for The Indiana Policy Review. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].