Changing A Bad Law

Kathleen Parker is a conservative columnist who sometimes irritates other conservatives by writing the truth. Today she comments on Michael Phelps:

Our marijuana laws have been ludicrous for as long as we’ve been alive. Almost half of us (42 percent) have tried marijuana at least once, according to a report published last year in PLoS Medicine, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

The U.S., in fact, boasts the highest percentage of pot smokers among 17 nations surveyed, including The Netherlands, where cannabis clouds waft from coffeehouse windows. Among them are no small number of high-ranking South Carolina leaders (we knew us when), who surely cringe every time a young person gets fingered for a “crime” they themselves have committed.

Other better-known former tokers include our current president and a couple of previous ones, as well as a Supreme Court justice, to name just a few. A complete list would require the slaughter of several mature forests.

This we know: Were Phelps to run for public office someday and admit to having smoked pot in his youth, he would be forgiven. Yet, in the present, we impose monstrous expectations on our heroes. Several hand-wringing commentaries have surfaced the past few days, lamenting the tragic loss for disappointed moms, dads and, yes, The Children.

Understandably, parents worry that their kids will emulate their idol, but the problem isn’t Phelps, who is, in fact, an adult. The problem is our laws — and our lies.

Obviously, children shouldn’t smoke anything, legal or otherwise. Nor should they drink alcoholic beverages, even though their parents might.

There are good reasons for substance restrictions for children that need not apply to adults.

That’s the real drug message that should inform our children and our laws, rather than the nonsense that currently passes for drug information.

Today’s anti-drug campaigns are slightly wonkier than yesterday’s “Reefer Madness,” but equally likely to become party hits rather than drug deterrents. One recent ad produced by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says: “Hey, not trying to be your mom, but there aren’t many jobs out there for potheads.” Whoa, dude, except maybe, like, president of the United States.

Once a kid realizes that pot doesn’t make him insane — or likely to become a burrito taster, as the ad further asserts — he might figure other drug information is equally false. That’s how marijuana becomes a gateway drug.

Phelps may be an involuntary hero to this charge, but his name and face bring necessary attention to a farce in which nearly half the nation are actors. It’s time to recognize that all drugs are not equal — and change the laws accordingly.

I agree with her ultimate conclusion that the law should be changed but, like Radley Balko, I disagree with the view that Phelps should be prosecuted because ” the law is the law.”

It’s easy to say “the law is the law,” but that ignores the reality that there are far more lawbreakers than there are resources to arrest and charge them all.

So law enforcement officials have all sorts of discretion. It’s precisely because Lott has limited resources and more important crimes to investigate that he could have blown this thing off. The county would likely spend thousands just providing security and logistics for Phelps’ court appearances.

Perhaps I overlooked something, but I’ve followed the case pretty closely, and I haven’t sensed any public pressure in the direction of arresting and charging Phelps. In fact, the first I heard of the idea came yesterday, when Lott himself volunteered the possibility. Even if Lott does arrest Phelps, the local prosecutor would still have the discretion to turn down the case and spend his resources prosecuting crimes that actually affect the public safety.

On the other hand, the spectacle of seeing a world class athlete like Phelps frog-marched in handcuffs, tried, and given a few days in the county jail might do wonders toward enlightening the public to the fact that the most dangerous thing about marijuana doesn’t come from smoking it, but from what the government will to you if it catches you.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment