Obama’s Reefer Madness

Why does his administration take UFO spotters more seriously than it does those who want to legalize pot?

Aaron Foster/Getty Images; David Young-Wolff/Getty Images
Aaron Foster/Getty Images; David Young-Wolff/Getty Images

And of course, alcohol is “associated” with addiction, cognitive impairment and all manner of ills, and yet one can purchase it, with it assumed that other societal mechanisms will address its possible abuse. Many of us watch HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, in which establishments are penalized for serving cocktails, and shake our heads. I’d bet quite a bit that Kerlikowske would do the same. Many of us just caught Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s fine Prohibition series on PBS and felt the same way.

Indeed, the most popular of the marijuana petitions on the We the People site proposes, quite simply, that we “Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol.” But Kerlikowske’s response to this is lies: “The President’s National Drug Control strategy is balanced and comprehensive, emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of drugs entering our communities.”

It is not balanced; nor does it “emphasize” prevention and treatment. Under Obama, punishment for drug possession and use has been funded more highly, while funds for treatment under the Department of Education have been slashed by a third (pdf).

Kerlikowske: “Preventing drug use is the most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences in America. And, as we’ve seen in our work through community coalitions across the country, this approach works in making communities healthier and safer.”

The rest of us: This argument is specious overall but quite hopeless as regards marijuana. Who among us could name a single American community in which the fabric of life has been transformed by people having a harder time getting their hands on a joint?

Now, I should be clear — even in its response to the UFO true believers, the administration does tell truth: “The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”

But in this, again the administration treats these eccentrics with more respect than it does the people who want to see marijuana legalized. Those serious people get the written equivalent of a squirt in the eye from a spray bottle, as if they were cats trying to jump on the counter to nab some tuna salad.

I caught the ancient movie comedy International House last weekend. One spot has Cab Calloway and his band doing “Reefer Man,” with the implication that the bassist has just enjoyed some. They used to pull that sequence when showing the film on television — a Reefer Madness take on pot that we now laugh at as overblown and quaint.

The Obama folks have no problem imposing that same kind of unthinking primitivism on the nation at large, and not just in what we get to see on TV. And yet meanwhile, one senses that they wouldn’t mind a good sit-down with Marvin the Martian.

It’s one more example of how the hopey-changey thing really doesn’t seem to be working out for us.

John McWhorter is a contributing editor to The Root.

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