David Frum Shares His Shocking Marijuana Ignorance With Newsweek/Daily Beast Audience

Relying on a variety of well-worn drug myths, Frum argues that legalizing marijuana would exacerbate inequality and problems affecting youths.


David Frum's new Daily Beast article on marijuana bemoans the poor economic prospects of America's younger generations, and brings in the absurd claim that legalizing marijuana would kick young people -- and the disadvantaged at-large -- while they’re down.

Relying on a variety of well-worn drug myths, Frum says that Americans already engage in too many risky behaviors, and because life is still so hard for so many of us, legalizing pot would only make it all worse.

The reality is that legalizing marijuana would be a big boost to opportunity for young people: In one year, marijuana decriminalization in California reduced the youth crime rate by 20 percent. Decreasing pot arrests is additionally important because some people -- low-income, young men of color -- are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana use than their pot-smoking, richer, white counterparts.

Frum's bleeding-heart argument against legalization hinges on the idea that marijuana legalization would lead to more use, which means more people subjected to habitual marijuana use and the harms he associates with it. Moreover, Frum claims that because young people are disadvantaged and smoking more pot these days, they are more likely to become long-term marijuana users, and should not be additionally burdened by the cognitive problems he claims marijuana causes.

But, as Frum briefly notes, correlation does not imply causation. And even the “amotivational syndrome” so often applied to stoner stereotypes has been proven to be a cause of marijuana use, not a symptom. Frum writes:

The good news is that many—most—young people will experiment with marijuana, quit, and suffer no long-lasting ill effects. The bad news is that more young people are experimenting with marijuana, raising the absolute numbers of those who will become habitual users.

The young people most likely to become habitual users are those who already face declining opportunities. Over the past generation, American society has closed route after route into the middle class. Wages are stagnant, upward mobility has slowed, job security has deterior­ated, higher education has become more expensive, and two-parent families have dwindled. Meanwhile, we have opened more and more roads to self-harm. Must we now open another?

Legalizing marijuana does not encourage self-harm. Despite marijuana’s illegality, 40 percent of Americans have smoked pot in their lifetimes. Legalizing marijuana, however, could reduce the organized crime associated with its sale, make purchasing the drug more difficult for younger users (in Colorado and Washington, marijuana is legal for adults over 21), and help keep the young people who did get caught from facing draconian consequences like jail, difficulty finding employment and temporary loss of financial aid for college.

Because marijuana laws are enforced by race, and often in low-income areas, reducing the arrest rate and the barriers arrest places in the way of opportunity would not eliminate racial injustice, but it would help. Frum, however, seems to believe the minimal harms associated with pot outweigh the criminal consequences. He suggests that disadvantaged Americans will be more drawn to using it and suffering these consequences, blowing a few dog whistles along the way:

It’s baffling to me that people who profess anxiety about the trend to social inequality will so often endorse drug legalization. A world of legal drugs will be a world in which the fates of the top one third of Americans and the lower two thirds will diverge even more than they already do. A world of weaker families, absent parents, and shriveling job opportunities is a world in which more Americans will seek a cheap and easy escape from their depressing reality. Legalized marijuana, like legal tobacco, will become a diversion for those who feel they have the least to lose.

Marijuana will not make disadvantaged people with "absent parents" more disadvantaged, nor will it make them too lazy to try to find work that is hardly available. Well-off, college-educated Americans (especially those who are current students) are just as likely, if not more, to smoke pot as those who come from families with less income. They are less likely, however, to face the harsh consequences of a pot arrest.

Rather, decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana would actually help keep families together. Parents who use marijuana, and mothers who use it while pregnant, can have custody of their children threatened, even if they are sound parents. Drug-testing newborns is not fault-proof,  errors are common, and it is most likely to occur when the mothers are not white.

In sum, legalizing marijuana isn't going to exacerbate injustice. At the very least, it would mean that low-income people of color enjoy the same pot privileges as white stoners. 


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