In his latest article for the New York Times, neoconservative columnist David Brooks argues that although he enjoyed smoking pot in his youth, it would be better if the substance remained illegal.
Despite the fact that smoking marijuana, according to Brooks, "deepened" the friendships he had with others in his teenage clique, Brooks concludes that being high is a lesser form of happiness. Far better, Brooks says, to work at "going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment." Why pot and what he calls "deeper sources of happiness" need be pitted against one another, the New York Times columnist does not say.
Brooks devotes most of the piece to reminiscences of his youth, but he does eventually tie his musings to questions of contemporary public policy. Turning to Colorado and Washington's recent legalization of small amounts of marijuana for recreational purposes, Brooks argues that the two states are "effectively encouraging drug use" and "are producing more users." He goes on to lament how "people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use."
But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But 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.