The case against marijuana legalization that appeals most to me is the “no guardrails” argument. If you’re not familiar with the theory, it essentially goes like this: Elites have the infrastructure and resources to manage vices, but when poor or working-class people take their cues from these very elites, lives are ruined.
While it seems unrealistic for me to believe marijuana use will cause my colleagues to freak out and become drug fiends, the responsible conservative is always concerned with unintended consequences (and anyone interested in policy ought to consider how things will impact the most vulnerable among us).
“The young people most likely to become habitual users are those who already face declining opportunities,” warned David Frum in a 2012 column.
“It’s baffling to me,” he continued, “that people who profess anxiety about the trend to social inequality will so often endorse drug legalization.”
Even if his isn’t a widely espoused argument, it’s certainly not unheard of. Responding to a reader on his popular TAC blog recently, Rod Dreher sarcastically noted that “If [the commenter were right] the legalize-pot revolution will work out for the working class and the poor about as well as the sexual revolution has.”
Think the handwringing is exclusive to conservatives? In the past, I’ve shared an interesting excerpt from a Vanity Fair article about the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco in 1967 — “The Summer of Love” that also speaks to this phenomenon:
Nicholas von Hoffman, of The Washington Post, who covered the Haight in a suit and tie, was, he says [by 1967], “appalled” by what he saw.
The overnight change in the attitude toward drugs was what alarmed von Hoffman. “A generation and a half before, you could back a dump truck full of cocaine into a Jesuit schoolyard and none of those boys would get near it.” Now, suddenly, he continues, “middle- and working-class kids were doing ‘vice tours,’ like American businessmen in Thailand: coming to the Haight for a few weeks, then, when the dirt between their toes got too encrusted, going home. This was when American blue-collar and middle-class kids became drug users. This was the beginning of the Rust Belt rusting.” (Emphasis mine.)
In the wake of the 1960s, this phenomenon didn’t just destroy lives, it also destroyed a lot of small towns and communities. Many would say that marijuana was the “gateway drug” that started it all.