Editorial: Legalize marijuana?

Drug use among young people is not an issue unique to Rappahannock County. But based upon the ever-growing volume of drug arrests and convictions, as regularly reported in the paper, it is an issue that needs discussing.

Part of that discussion should include specifically marijuana use – and whether it should be legalized.

If the newspaper were to crusade in this editorial space in favor of such legalization, that advocacy might be easily discounted as simply representative of the county’s “aging hippie” population. But what if Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen, in his recent campaign swing through the county, said the following?

“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. . . . I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

No, he didn’t say that, but evangelical leader Pat Robertson did say it in an interview last month. Robertson has also expressed similar sentiments on “The 700 Club,” the signature television program of his Virginia-based Christian Broadcasting Network.

It’s the equivalent of Richard Nixon’s going to China. Had Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern been president back then and so radically changed U.S. foreign policy toward “Red China,” he would have been branded a Commie or worse.

Social psychologists understand that what we think of what we hear – whether it’s China or marijuana that’s not so bad after all – depends on who said it. In other words, our intuitive feelings matter more than reasoned arguments. According to a new book by University of Virginia professor Jonathan Haidt (“The Righteous Mind”), most people employ reasoning simply to justify and confirm what they already feel.

So when Pat Robertson says the opposite of what people feel he would say, it’s worth noting. “If you follow the teaching of Christ, you know that Christ is a compassionate man,” Robertson said. “And he would not condone the imprisoning of people for nonviolent offenses.”

Perhaps less unexpectedly, Robertson said the real reason prisons are overcrowded with juvenile drug offenders is a “liberal mindset to have an all-encompassing government.”

Walter Nicklin