Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rich Schwartzman: An intoxicating hypocrisy

  Today’s socially conservative Republicans are reminiscent of the proverbial Puritan who had trouble sleeping because he knew that, somewhere, people were enjoying themselves.

  These are the same Republicans who say they’re for small government, unless, of course, they think you’re doing something of which they don’t approve. Then they need to create laws against those things.

  Not all the members of the “I know better” crowd are well-known members on the national level of politics.

  Stephen Barrar, a Republican state representative serving a suburban Philadelphia district, was proud of the two cases of wine he had in the trunk of his car.

  “Pennsylvania wine,” he crowed.

  Yet within two minutes after showing off his wine, as he was walking into an elementary school to present state flags to some new Eagle Scouts, he said he’d never vote for anyone who advocates the legalization of marijuana.

  In 2009, Pennsylvania closed Brandywine Battlefield Park and several other state parks because of a poor economy. During a town hall meeting across the street from the park, it was suggested to Barrar that marijuana should be legalized and taxed to help improve state finances.

  His reaction: “Nobody really believes that, do they?”

  He was taken aback when six of the 24 people attending raised their hands to say they favored legalization. He quickly changed the subject.

  Two years later he blanched when told the pastor of a local Baptist church said legalizing pot would take away the forbidden-fruit appeal and make it less attractive to kids, causing use to go down.

  If a religious leader’s thoughts wouldn’t move a Republican, surely those from law enforcement would. Right? No.

  The rep wouldn’t accept the figures from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers, drug agents, judges, and prosecutors who advocate for an end to prohibition. According to LEAP, 1.4 percent of the population was addicted to drugs prior to the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act — the first national law prohibiting drugs — and that figure has remained steady even now.

  Barrar said the figure was likely higher. Yet, if a larger percentage of people were using something when it’s illegal rather than when it was legal, wouldn’t that just prove the pastor has the right idea and that the drug war is a failure?

  He then trotted out the gateway drug theory, but again went blank when reminded that an estimated 22 million Americans use marijuana on a regular basis without snorting cocaine or shooting heroin.

  His bottom line rationale for the emotional and intellectual disconnect is that he drinks wine because he likes the taste while pot users only want to get high.

  This is the same state rep who opposed lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from .10 percent to .08 percent in 2003. His argument then was that there are a lot of people who can have a blood alcohol level of more than .08 percent and not be impaired.

  That may be accurate. If so, shouldn’t impairment be the test, not some arbitrary number? And if that’s the case, shouldn’t impairment be the test for all intoxicants?

  But it doesn’t matter if a person uses marijuana just to get high. Joe Six Pack is allowed to get drunk. So are the multiple-martini-for-lunch business executives and anyone else of legal age for that matter. How many people are tipsy when leaving a tasting at the local winery? Some people believe getting drunk is okay but getting high should be illegal. That’s hypocrisy, pure and simple.

  There are myriad reasons for ending prohibition on all drugs. There are the practical and financial reasons. It would save money on enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration. Mere possession and voluntary use of a substance should not be criminal.

  It’s prohibition that causes criminal activity. The prohibition of alcohol led to the rise of Al Capone and his ilk, making them more powerful than any two-bit thug should be. It led to drive-by shootings and the corruption of law enforcement. The same thing is happening today because of the current era of prohibition.

  Even decriminalization would be a step in the right direction. Portugal has seen a drop in all drug use since it decriminalized possession and use of all drugs in 2001. Users with problems there now get therapy instead of jail time.

  But the real reason to end prohibition is for the sake of liberty. Liberty demands that adults be free to make their own choices, good or bad, as long as they neither harm nor interfere with the rights of other people. People can ingest or inhale what they please, be it booze, pot or raw milk, or a slice of pizza, a soft pretzel, a Happy Meal, tofu, or crack.

  Where there is liberty it’s just as legal to get stoned and watch South Park or The Simpsons as it is to get drunk and watch a ballgame. Just keep it private and don’t bother anyone else. And politicians shouldn’t be bothering free people either.

  About the author: Richard Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

  This article was published by the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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