Proof and Prejudice

Years after candidate George Bush's non-answers to questions about his possible drug past fueled controversy and a sense that he indeed had such a past, proof for some of it at least has at last emerged. Taped excerpts from a conversation, released by the author of a new book, reveal the future president essentially admitting to past marijuana use and explaining why he would never acknowledge it in public.

On one level, the educated reaction to this news is something along the lines of, "So what?" Tens of millions of Americans have used marijuana during their lives. It wasn't a big deal for most of them. Even the more dangerous drugs aren't a problem for most of their users – that's not the strongest argument for legalization of them, but it's true. All the more so for marijuana. Bill Clinton used marijuana. Al Gore used marijuana. It did not and should not have disqualified them from the nation's top job. Nor does it disqualify George Bush.

On other levels, however, the information is troubling, for two reasons. One is that candidate Bush criticized his opponent, Al Gore, not for having used marijuana but for having admitted to it. "I want to lead," he explained on the tapes, and "I don't want some little kid doing what I tried." He couldn't criticize Gore for having used drugs because he had also used drugs. So instead he criticized him for being open and truthful.

There is a level on which one could legitimately hold that it is counterproductive for kids to be keenly focused on the drug use of famous role models; this is an area on which reasonable people can hold varying points of view. But the way to accomplish that would be through legalization and treating private drug use as not a big deal. And that is not what George Bush has advocated.

Which leads us to the second reason, one of hard policy. As governor, Mr. Bush escalated sentences for some drug offenses, putting other people in prison for longer time periods for things that he himself had done or supported. As president, under his authority the federal government has targeted medical marijuana cooperatives, escalated the war on pain doctors, campaigned against drug policy reform initiatives or legislation, promoted drug testing and vastly overreaching drugged-driving laws, gone to court against any reform to drug policy that it could no matter how modest.

So if marijuana use in the distant past is not relevant to judging the president, hypocrisy on the drug issue is very relevant. And if not being open or candid about one's own youth is not exactly the same as lying to children, it verges on that. Not to suggest that his predecessor and failed opponents have stellar records on the issue by any means; they most certainly don't. But they're not president right now.

So if it is unimportant that George Bush used marijuana, it is kind of sad that he opposes honesty about it. And it is very sad that he continues to support cruel and repressive drug policies – policies which could have ruined his life if they had been in place back then, but realistically only in theory.

I am glad, therefore, that now there is proof of George Bush's drug use. If only by providing one more bit of rhetorical ammunition, it will make it slightly harder for the drug warriors to continue to escalate their pogrom against the American people.

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