Pubdate: Sat, 04 Jan 2014
Source: International New York Times (International)
Copyright: 2014 The New York Times Company
Author: David Brooks


For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked
marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly
together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our

But then we all sort of moved away from it. I don't remember any big
group decision that we should give up weed. It just sort of petered
out, and, before long, we were scarcely using it.

We didn't give it up for the obvious health reasons: that it is
addictive in about one in six teenagers; that smoking and driving is a
good way to get yourself killed; that young people who smoke go on to
suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests.

I think we gave it up, first, because we each had had a few
embarrassing incidents. Stoned people do stupid things (that's
basically the point). I smoked one day during lunch and then had to
give a presentation in English class. I stumbled through it, incapable
of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a total loser. It is
still one of those embarrassing memories that pop up unbidden at 4 in
the morning.

We gave it up, second, I think, because one member of our clique
became a full-on stoner. He may have been the smartest of us, but
something sad happened to him as he sunk deeper into pothead life.

Third, most of us developed higher pleasures. Smoking was fun, for a
bit, but it was kind of repetitive. Most of us figured out early on
that smoking weed doesn't really make you funnier or more creative
(academic studies more or less confirm this). We graduated to more
satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve
a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning
more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense
of satisfaction and accomplishment.

One close friend devoted himself to track. Others fell deeply in love
and got thrills from the enlargements of the heart. A few developed
passions for science or literature.

Finally, I think we had a vague sense that smoking weed was not
exactly something you were proud of yourself for. It's not something
people admire. We were in the stage, which I guess all of us are still
in, of trying to become more integrated, coherent and responsible
people. This process usually involves using the powers of reason,
temperance and self-control - not qualities one associates with being

I think we had a sense, which all people have, or should have, that
the actions you take change you inside, making you a little more or a
little less coherent. Not smoking, or only smoking sporadically, gave
you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and
interesting. Smoking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively
fragment a person's deep center, or at least not do much to enhance

So, like the vast majority of people who try drugs, we aged out. We
left marijuana behind. I don't have any problem with somebody who gets
high from time to time, but I guess, on the whole, I think being
stoned is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be
discouraged more than encouraged.

We now have a couple states - Colorado and Washington - that have gone
into the business of effectively encouraging drug use. By making weed
legal, they are creating a situation in which the price will drop
substantially. One RAND study suggests that prices could plummet by up
to 90 percent, before taxes and such. As prices drop and legal fears
go away, usage is bound to increase. This is simple economics, and it
is confirmed by much research. Colorado and Washington, in other
words, are producing more users.

The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health
risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize.
Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of
drug use because that would imply that one sort of life you might
choose is better than another sort of life.

But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold
culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture?
What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage?

I'd say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the
scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In
those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures,
like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser
pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing
individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in
which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to
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