- - Monday, March 30, 2015


By William J. Bennett and Robert A. White

Center Street, $26, 240 pages

William Bennett, who served as secretary of education under Ronald Reagan and director of national drug control policy (or drug czar) under George H.W. Bush, has long been known for his strong and clear articulation of conservative principles in a number of best-selling books, among them “The Book of Virtues.”

In “Going to Pot,” he and his co-author Robert White, a managing partner in an international law firm and former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, examine the current trendy rush to legalize the drug. “Marijuana, once considered worthy of condemnation, has in recent years become a ‘medicine’ legalized fully in four states, with others expected to follow.”

Once a cause becomes popular, especially a cause aimed at reversing some long-accepted societal standard, and once the media, both mass and social, begin to beat the tom-toms in support of that cause, chances are good that what may have been considered dangerous and harmful becomes benign and even desirable.

At present, marijuana legalization is on that fast track, and it’s Mr. Bennett’s intention to provide “a call to action for the 46 states that know better than to support full legalization, and a voice of reason for millions who have jumped on the legalization bandwagon because they haven’t had access to the facts.”

Many of these facts, write the authors, are contained in the numerous studies they cite, showing, for instance, a link between marijuana use and abnormal brain structure and development. The damaging effects of prolonged marijuana use are especially pronounced on the teenage brain, with a clear link to teen psychosis as well as IQ decreases and brain damage. “These are permanent decreases, indicating permanent brain damage.”

Yet, according to the authors, marijuana “is a substance whose dangers the president of the United States recently downplayed, in the face of the very evidence his own Office of National Drug Control Policy, DEA, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse promulgate.”

But legalize it, level the playing field with other harmful substances that currently enjoy legality, and you’ve opened the door to yet another serious and harmful public health problem, exacerbated by the dramatically increased potency of today’s marijuana.

“Legality is the mother of availability and availability, as former health, education, and welfare secretary Joe Califano recently put it, is the mother of use.”

In the end, write the authors, legalization simply defies common sense. “Adding to the catalog of unhealthy products in America does nothing to reduce problems we already have; it only serves to increase the harm by adding yet another dangerous substance to the marketplace.”

True, there have been well-argued statements of support of legalization for essentially economic and libertarian reasons from a variety of serious people, among them Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr. (Rand Paul, with his libertarian pedigree, may also believe in a form of legalization, with the proviso that minors are protected).

And as the authors point out, there are also somewhat unlikely opponents, among them Maureen Dowd, the New York Times’ premier columnist, and California Gov. Jerry Brown, who as the erstwhile “Governor Moonbeam,” was once mistakenly, if understandably, thought of as a charter member of California’s considerable drug culture.

The authors quote Mr. Brown on the subject: “If there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not twenty-four hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

When a nationally known and perceived liberal political leader voices opposition to legalization in this straightforward way, say the authors, “we know this problem transcends party problems because it is detrimental to our nation.”

Why the trendy rush to legalize is being led by many of the same people who have declared war on trans fats, sugar, potato chips and tobacco remains something of a mystery — especially in the case of tobacco, where reputable studies cited by the authors have shown that smoking marijuana is more damaging to the lungs than cigarette smoking.

But the vagaries and contradictions of ideology aside, the authors have opened with a strong and eloquent salvo in what they hope will be “a larger debate about the legalization of marijuana, whether medical or recreational.”

“This argument is, after all, about our most precious and valuable assets: the health and well-being of our children and our country.”

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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