Pubdate: Wed, 23 Apr 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Section: A
Authors: Jacob Sullum and Charles Stimson
Referenced: Monday's DUST UP
Referenced: Tuesday's DUST UP



The last two presidents and two of the current candidates have either 
used illegal substances or have had substance abuse problems. Does 
this show that winners don't always refuse to use drugs? Jacob Sullum 
and Charles "Cully" Stimson debate.

Today, Sullum and Stimson discuss past drug use by successful 
political leaders. Previously, they compared drug legalization and 
decriminalization and debated the federal government's authority to 
raid local marijuana dispensaries. Later in the week, they'll address 
drug-related violence and more.

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By Jacob Sullum

According to the federal government's survey data, at least half of 
American adults born after Word War II have tried marijuana. Because 
people may not be completely candid about illegal behavior even in a 
confidential survey, the true percentage is probably higher. And many 
of those who have never smoked pot no doubt know people who did, yet 
somehow emerged unscathed from the experience.

That is the typical pattern for illegal drug users. Again, judging 
from the government's own data, the vast majority of them, including 
those who try drugs said to be instantly addictive, never become 
heavy users. Yet politicians feel constrained to pretend otherwise, 
lest they be accused of being soft on drugs or irresponsibly 
encouraging American youth to experiment with illicit intoxicants.

Bill Clinton absurdly insisted that he had smoked pot without 
inhaling. His successor has implicitly conceded that he used illegal 
drugs when he was younger, but he refuses to discuss the details. "If 
I were you," George W. Bush told a Newsweek interviewer in 1998, "I 
wouldn't tell your kids that you smoked pot unless you want 'em to 
smoke pot. I think it's important for leaders, and parents, not to 
send mixed signals. I don't want some kid saying, 'Well, Gov. Bush tried it.' "

Although Barack Obama has been unusually candid about his youthful 
drug use, he has stuck to the conventional narrative of sin and 
redemption, suggesting that he was well on his way to death from a 
heroin overdose because he smoked pot in high school and college. 
Even so, Obama's comments have attracted criticism from drug 
warriors. Last fall, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt 
Romney said, "It's just not a good idea for people running for 
president of the United States who potentially could be the role 
model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while 
they were kids because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, 
'Well, I can do that too and become president of the United States.' "

The thing is, that happens to be demonstrably true. Prohibitionists 
have invented a whole sub-genre of anti-drug propaganda to deal with 
this inconvenient reality. They argue that marijuana today is so much 
stronger than it used to be -- 30 times as strong, according to White 
House drug czar John P. Walters -- that it's not even the same drug 
as the stuff that Clinton, Bush, Obama, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich and 
other major political figures managed to smoke without wrecking their lives.

There's little question that average THC content, marijuana's main 
psychoactive substance, has increased substantially since the 1970s, 
although not by anywhere near as much as Walters claims. But because 
the respiratory effects of smoking are the most serious health hazard 
cannabis poses, increased potency makes the drug less dangerous, 
allowing people to get the same effect with less exposure to 
combustion products. The potency argument therefore should be viewed 
as little more than an attempt to obscure something that most 
Americans know from their own direct or indirect experiences. Until 
politicians admit that smoking marijuana is not a harbinger of ruin 
but a generally harmless rite of passage, they will not be able to 
have an honest discussion about drug policy.

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Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally 
syndicated columnist, is the author of "Saying Yes: In Defense of 
Drug Use" (Tarcher/Penguin).

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By Charles "Cully" Stimson


Imagine this:

It's 3 a.m., and a phone rings in the vice president's quarters. A 
Secret Service agent answers the phone, listens, and then rushes into 
the VP's bedroom with the phone in hand and wakes him up.

Agent (placing his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone): Mr. Vice 
President, the president of Xyzistan has threatened to launch a 
nuclear strike in 15 minutes. You must respond.

Vice president: Where is the heck is the president? Why isn't he 
taking the lead on this issue?

Agent: Sir, he's coming down from his heroin high. We tried to wake 
him up, sir, but he's out of it.

Vice president: Give me the darn phone.

Look, the issue is not whether some politicians fib about prior drug 
usage because they want to get elected -- they do -- but whether we 
want our leaders to reflect the best America has to offer. People 
look to politicians for leadership and to the president as a role model.

We're all fallible. Since the beginning of mankind, there have been 
and always will be temptations. Those include, but are not limited 
to, drugs and alcohol. Society's best and brightest -- and whatever 
you think of their politics, presidential candidates tend to be 
extremely bright, highly capable individuals -- can experiment with 
drugs or abuse alcohol early in their lives and get away with it, or nearly so.

But there are still consequences. Ultimately, each candidate had to 
recover from his experimentation of drugs or abuse of alcohol to 
become a viable contender for president. The reason is quite simple: 
Americans don't want to elect a known alcoholic or a drug addict as 
president, but they are willing to consider a candidate who overcame 
an addiction or made a bad choice as a youth and learned from those 

We all know people who have abused drugs or alcohol. I used to work 
closely with an attorney; let's call him "Bob." Bob and I were 
friends; our families socialized. Our offices were right next to each 
others'. Bob graduated from prestigious universities. We tried cases 
against each other, but he never lived up to his potential as a trial 
attorney. One week I beat him at trial, and his performance was poor. 
The next week, he passed out during a different trial. It turns out 
he had been drinking a fifth of scotch a day for 12 years.

He got professional help, fights the urge to drink to this day, and 
is now a world-class advocate, father and husband. Just think, 
though, of all the clients he failed prior to getting help.

Here's the point: He chose to abuse alcohol and lived. If he had 
chosen, say, heroin, he would probably be dead.

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Charles "Cully" Stimson was a local, state, and federal prosecutor, a 
military prosecutor and defense attorney, and deputy assistant 
secretary of defense. Currently, he is a senior legal fellow at the 
Heritage Foundation ( 
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