Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Medical Marijuana Opinion Editorial
Gay Marriage & Marijuana
You can't stop either. Why that's good.
By Jacob Weisberg
Published Oct 31, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Nov 9, 2009
"I think this would be a good time for a beer," Franklin D. Roosevelt
said upon signing a bill that made 3.2 percent lager legal, ahead of the
full repeal of Prohibition. I hope Barack Obama will come up with some
comparably witty remarks as he presides over the dismantling of our
contemporary forms of prohibition—laws that prevent gay marriage,
restrict cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, and ban travel
to Cuba. "You may now kiss the groom," perhaps, or a version of the
comment he once made about smoking pot: "I inhaled—that was the
Prohibition now is different from Prohibition then. When the 18th
Amendment went into effect in 1920, it was a radical social experiment
challenging a custom as old as civilization. A predictable
failure—the insult to individual rights, the impossibility of
enforcement, the spawning of organized crime—it came to an end in
1933. Today it is a byword for futile attempts to legislate morality and
remake human nature.
Our forms of prohibition are more sins of omission than commission.
Rather than trying to take away longstanding rights, they're instances
of conservative laws failing to keep pace with a liberalizing society.
But like Prohibition in the '20s, these restrictions have become
indefensible as well as impractical, and as a result are fading fast.
Within 10 years, it seems a reasonable guess that Americans will travel
freely to Cuba, that all states will recognize gay unions, and that few
will retain criminal penalties for marijuana use by individuals. These
reforms are inevitable—not because politics has changed, but because
A few reference points: in April, Obama lifted restrictions on travel
and remittances by Cuban-Americans. Last month the Justice Department
announced that it would no longer prosecute cases involving medical
marijuana. Same-sex marriages are recognized in six states and counting.
In a larger frame, loosening restrictions and lax enforcement reflect
evolving social norms. Gay unions have been celebrated on the New York
Times weddings page since 2002. Since George W. Bush left office,
American tourists no longer worry about being prosecuted for visiting
Havana without a Treasury license. In L.A., you need only tell an
on-site doctor at a walk-in pot emporium that you feel anxious to walk
out with a legal bag of Captain Kush.
The chief reason these prohibitions are falling away is the evolving
definition of the pursuit of happiness. What's driving the legalization
of gay marriage is not so much the moral argument, but the pressures
from couples who want to sanctify their relationships, obtain legal
benefits, and raise children in a stable environment. What's advancing
the decriminalization of marijuana is not just the demand for pot as
medicine but the number of adults—more than 23 million in the past
year, according to the most recent government survey—who use it and
don't believe they should face legal jeopardy. What's bringing the
change on Cuba is not the epic failure of the 49-year-old U.S. embargo,
but the demand on the part of Americans who want to go there—whether
to visit relatives, prospect for post-Castro business opportunities, or
sip rum drinks on the beach.
For similar reasons, there isn't likely to be any retreat on the right
to have an abortion or own a gun. Popular demand for an individual right
is simply too powerful to overcome. The Internet has been a crucial
amplifier of all such claims. With pornography and gambling, the Web
itself became an irrepressible distribution tool. When it comes to gay
marriage, it has accelerated the recognition of a new civil right by
serving as an organizing tool and information clearinghouse. More
broadly, the freest communications medium the world has ever known has
raised expectations of personal liberty. In a world where everyone has
his own printing press, restrictions on personal behavior become
Politicians will continue to lag, rather than lead, these changes.
Republicans face a risk in resisting the new realities. If the GOP
remains the party of prohibition, it will increasingly alienate
libertarian leaners and the young. Democrats face a different danger in
embracing cultural transformations too eagerly. Nearly four decades
after George McGovern became known as the candidate of amnesty,
abortion, and acid, cultural issues are still treacherous territory for
them. Why get in front of change when you can follow from a safe
distance and end up with the same result?
Jacob Weisberg is also the author of The Bush Tragedy and In an
Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington .