Bloomberg, End Pot Law Hypocrisy

Discussion in 'Marijuana News from The USA' started by Superjoint, Apr 20, 2002.

  1. By Richard Brookhiser
    Source: Newsday

    When Michael Bloomberg was running for mayor, a reporter asked him if he had ever smoked pot. "You bet I did," he replied, "and I enjoyed it."
    Candidates are asked a million questions, and most of their answers are forgotten, but we all know this bit of campaign Q&A because the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Foundation or NORML, a Washington-based pro-legalization group, is running Michael Bloomberg's words in splashy print ads.

    The mayor now regrets his answer in New York Magazine, but the damage is done. His face in the pro-pot ad - "It's NORML to smoke pot" - may loom like Big Brother's in 1984, but the quote is knowing and hip.

    Times change. When Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Douglas Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court and it turned out he had smoked marijuana in his youth, his nomination was incinerated. In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton, running for president, admitted that he had smoked pot, but still felt it prudent to claim that he had never inhaled. But by the last presidential election cycle, it was part of the public record that Vice President Al Gore had smoked pot as a young man. Michael Bloomberg simply swelled a trend.

    But the times also do not change. Marijuana continues to be illegal; and while the charmed circle of the prosperous and well-connected who can smoke with impunity may have expanded a bit, those who are outside the circle are still liable for arrest and prosecution if they are caught. (In 2000, the New York Police Department arrested 50,000 people for small amounts of marijuana possession.)

    When I was in a good East Coast college in the '70s, I too was in that charmed circle, and I smoked maybe 10 times. Unlike Bill Clinton, I inhaled. Unlike Michael Bloomberg, I didn't really enjoy it, which is why I have never smoked it for pleasure since. (Ten years ago I smoked marijuana to relieve the nausea that is a side effect of chemotherapy, but that certainly wasn't pleasant.) Yet many of my college friends smoked a lot more than I did, and none of them ever considered the possibility that he might be arrested, so long as he was reasonably cautious. Their calculation of the risk was correct. Casual and not-so-casual users behaved discreetly, and did not run for office prematurely. Like Michael Bloomberg, they passed through their drug days legally unscathed.

    Capricious enforcement is a major argument against the marijuana laws. Arbitrariness breeds disrespect. It also sends a perverse signal about society's seriousness: If we really thought pot was the demon weed, would we let our elites experiment with it without concern? Wouldn't we strain every nerve to keep their hands clean? Yet we don't.

    Mayor Bloomberg needs to do more than disavow his campaign talk now. He should reflect on the justice of laws that still prohibit what he clearly felt no compunction about doing.

    Of course, the mayor of New York has to be mindful of the possible quality-of-life effects of pot smoking. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani directed the cops to crack down on "minor" offenses such as public smoking and low-level dealing. Seemingly overnight, the bleary-eyed wraiths murmuring "Smokes" disappeared from city parks, and those parks became proper habitats for the bourgeoisie and the aspiring working class who are the city's backbone.

    But quality-of-life crimes also include acts that are otherwise legal when done in private. Alcohol prohibition was lifted almost 70 years ago. Yet in New York City (and most other places) you may not be publicly drunk, and you may not chug liquor on the streets or the park-benches, even if you pack your bottle in a brown paper bag (the ruse of winos in pre-Giuliani times). Standards of public behavior differ from standards for what we may do in private. Good order can and should be maintained, even if pot were to be decriminalized.

    Politicians must also consider the example they set. Though I am in favor of decriminalization, I think pot smoking is a bad habit to indulge. I don't find pot-heads funny, and I have known heavy users who have suffered in their lines of work. Similar cautions might be lodged about alcohol, however. Politicians rightly feel embarrassed if they are caught drunk. Which is worse-to set an example for the mature use of a sometimes pernicious drug, or to boast about breaking the law, and only feel embarrassed when reformers call you on it?

    Richard Brookhiser, a senior editor at The National Review -- http://www.nationalreview.com -- is the author of "America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918."

    Source: Newsday (NY)
    Author: Richard Brookhiser
    Published: April 19, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 Newsday Inc.
    Contact: letters@newsday.com
    Website: http://www.newsday.com/

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