By Matt Welch
Here's an interesting passage from the president's latest commencement address over the weekend:
Over the past four years, you've argued both sides of a debate. You've read novels and histories that take different cuts at life. [...] You've discovered interests you didn't know you had. You've made friends who didn't grow up the same way you did. You've tried things you'd never done before, including some things we won't talk about in front of your parents.
All of this, I hope, has had the effect of opening your mind; of helping you understand what it's like to walk in somebody else's shoes. But now that your minds have been opened, it's up to you to keep them that way. It will be up to you to open minds that remain closed that you meet along the way. That, after all, is the elemental test of any democracy: whether people with differing points of view can learn from each other, and work with each other, and find a way forward together.
That may be Obama's "elemental test of any democracy," but mine looks more like this: When an American president is cool enough to wink-wink and nudge-nudge about taking illegal drugs in college, maybe it's time to stop laughing off sensible proposals to legalize marijuana while jacking up funding (even in times of "spending freeze") for one of the most vile, freedom-trampling public policies in U.S. history, and start being open-minded enough to recognize that there is no longer much public constituency for having the federal government police personal drug consumption. There's nothing particularly democratic about locking up hundreds of thousands of people every year for consuming unauthorized medications.
If the president really is that keen to "walk in somebody else's shoes," I might suggest that before his federal apparatus arrests even one more potsmoker or coke-snorter, he volunteer to go back and retroactively serve time for all his undetected prior offenses, then come back and tell us why the enforcement status quo (however mildly modified) is worth defending. Yes, the idea is ridiculous on its face, but that's the point: If I had robbed a bank back in college, no one would find it ridiculous if I went back and served my time. The fact that I, like Barack Obama, the students of Hampton University, and basically half the U.S. population under the age of 60, managed to experiment with illegal drugs without getting caught is neither an indication of mass societal degeneracy nor a cause for in-group mirth. It's a telltale indicator that prohibition is a terrible idea.
I'm glad that Obama and most us kids from the right side of the tracks got away with it without coming face to face with our SWAT team/prison industrial complex, but when anybody from that silent majority then graduates to a position of enforcing the unconscionable, perpetuating a policy that has mangled millions of lives, forgive me for not laughing along with the joke.