(Centennial Fellow) My post here a couple of weeks ago, “Marijuana Day at Boulder,” which juxtaposed an April 20 lecture on Puritanism and the Protestant ethic that I had given in my CU classroom with the thousands of pot smokers outside in the quad, has gone somewhat viral – but with notable inaccuracies.
The piece was accurately cited days later by Brittany Anas in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Colorado Daily. Unfortunately, John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent, a “news website”dedicated to “the common good and social welfare”,then distorted the account without ever having met me. The headline claimed, that I was “baffled and offended by pro-pot protest”, which was subsequently repeated by Medicinal Colorado a marijuana advocacy website, and further exaggerated by the American Independent in their headline, claiming that I was “mystified [and] outraged”. Whatfantastic examples of journalistic irresponsibility!
After mentioning that I was merely “an adjunct instructor at CU and a fulltime faculty member at Colorado Christian University”,Tomasic declared, “The apparent conclusiveness of the thesis Watson presented to the class on the religious ‘isms’ that ‘made America great’ would likely be opened up with counter narratives by most scholars of history teaching at major public research universities like CU-Boulder.” Each of us can cite “scholars of history” to prove our opposing theses. Gertrude Himmelfarb, History Professor at CUNY and formerly of the University of Chicago and Cambridge begins her book on Victorian Virtues by citing Margaret Thatcher, who when disparaged by a British journalist for approving “Victorian values” replied, “Those were the values when our country became great,” a thesis in which Himmelfarb would concur.
Comments attached to the Colorado Independent website referred me as “a religious nut job”, “a misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritan…degenerate demagogue”, a “taliban”, “an uptight, Christian Conservative Professor judgmental of students’ activities at a liberal party school” [Actually I am not very conservative, but more of a libertarian], “an insolent ninny”, a “myopic fool”, “frozen in the past”, a “repressed, fearful and domineering White Protestant Male”, “who supports the wholesale destruction of human life” [Actually, I am a strong advocate the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, walked door-to-door for Bobby Kennedy in 1968, refuse to own weapons, and recently spent several months going through government archives in Eastern Europe trying to discover what happened to my Jewish side of the family who disappeared in the holocaust].
On 4/20 I saw a great opportunity to bring relevancy to my CU Boulder Western Civilization lecture on the Protestant ethic and Victorian virtues. As for being “baffled and offended” or “mystified and outraged”, nothing could have been further from the truth. Forty years ago as an undergraduate at a Cal State campus I would have been in that quad participating, for I too smoked dope, especially at Jimi Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane concerts. By my senior year I grew weary of the subculture and decided to grow up. Many of my friends, however,continued to get “wasted” and several died, overdosing on more dangerous substances.
I was never baffled, offended, mystified or outraged when thousands of people passed around ‘doobies’ last week just outside the window of my classroom. I was a bit disappointed when some of my students decided to ditch class and join them. Were it legal and the university didn’t mind, they should be free to smoke to their heart’s content. However, I am also free to comment on their activity, teach the subject of my expertise, and encourage my students toresponsibly attend class.What does cause me to be baffled, offended, mystified and outraged is that the government compels those who study and work hard to subsidize through taxation those whoditch class to sit around smoking dope in the quad. I was called a “Neo-Puritan”, but it’s as old as the debate between the Stoics and Hedonists in ancient Greece.
(CCU Faculty) Thursday upon arriving on the CU Boulder campus, where I moonlight from CCU history professor job, I had a hard time finding a parking place to teach my 3pm Western Civilization class. Earlier that day I had received several emails from some of my Boulder students telling me that they would be missing class due to an event in the quad. What that was, I now learned.
On my way to class I passed through the quad and saw several thousand students (as well as many homeless folks and others who didn’t seem to belong there). They were all in small circles of four to five people, and every circle was passing around marijuana cigarettes. I almost felt high myself as I tried to make it across the quad to my class. Half the class never showed up; they were enjoying the activity out on the lawn.
My lecture that day was Calvinism, Puritanism and the Protestant Ethic, how these values made America great, but that we were now unfortunately losing them here in America. How appropriate! As I spoke of living a responsible and sober life, studying hard to be a success, becoming an upstanding member of the community, and of one day becoming a good spouse and parent, my students automatically juxtaposed the activities outside our classroom where the other half of the class was spending their time. I told them that I felt I was preaching to the choir, but promised them all extra credit for their faithful attendance, choosing to learn about responsibility, instead of blowing smoke in the quad.
('76 Editor) A man in Denver, call him Jim, emailed me in connection with our Feb. 17 debate on medical marijuana and potential legalization of the drug. His comments speak for themselves:
I was hoping to make it to the debate but couldn't. I did want to share with you some thoughts on the topic of discussion. I was addicted to drugs for 15 years. Though marijuana was the least harmful drug it lead to harder drugs. People like to say that it is only "habit forming" which is part of the lie that addicts buy into. All addictions are based on the addicted person convincing him/her self into a lie that what they are doing is "OK". It is a lie.
My addiction to marijuana consisted of 15 years of daily looking for the drug and or doing it at every chance I could. I have been clean for 25 years but still have memories that haunt me to this day, including the death of two very close friends that died at the hands of drugs and their behavior changing effects.
I also have a friend that is moving his business because a "pot store" moved next door. We now have the druggies and drug dealers opening up shop "next door", a thought that makes me sick. It needs to be stopped.
My hopes and prayers are that the lawmakers will come to their senses and start making decisions that will benefit the majority and not a relatively few lost individuals.
(CCU Faculty) This week, The Centennial Institute hosted a debate on the question of whether, and to what degree, marijuana should be legalized in the state of Colorado. This is obviously a very important issue and extremely relevant. The Colorado legislature is currently attempting to deal with the continuing issue of how best to administer its current medicinal marijuana law.
During the Centennial Institute debate, the libertarian position favoring the easing of restrictions and possibly outright full legalization continued to surface. At the root of this argument is a belief that people should be able to make choices for themselves, without government restriction.
While respect for liberty is indeed a fine thing, liberty itself is not unlimited. The approach of most libertarians typically seeks a liberty unchecked. None of the participants at the Centennial Institute debate expressed a personal desire for to have access to marijuana, and all expressed personal reservations for themselves and their family members concerning its use. What this position amounts to is the following: its wrong for me but you can do whatever you want.
During the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, Senator Douglas explained how slavery had existed in his home state of Illinois for a time, but when the people of his state decided that it no longer worked for them, they voted to end it. In contrast to this, Kentucky, Illinois’ southern neighbor, had slavery and continued to have it. In Douglas’ mind, they continued to have legal slavery, as it worked for them. Douglas’ opinion of this discrepancy between Illinois and Kentucky concerning the legality of chattel slavery was an attitude of indifference. It was not right for some, but was for others.
Abraham Lincoln responded to Douglas’ indifference to slavery in the last of their seven debates, held in Alton, Illinois: [Douglas] says he “don’t care whether it is voted up or voted down” in the Territories.... Any man can say that who does not see anything wrong in slavery; but no man can logically say it who does see a wrong in it, because no man can logically say he does not care whether a wrong is voted up or down....
Lincoln correctly questions the logic of Douglas. If something is wrong, how can we not care whether it is legal? If there is something wrong with marijuana, how can we “not care” whether or not it is legal? The panelists all seemed to agree that for them, marijuana wasn’t a good thing. Is this merely a personal preference or it there something inherently wrong with it, which explains why they don’t want to use it, nor do they want their children to?
This is in no way an attempt to equate slavery with marijuana usage. What is similar is the argument that was put forth by Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858 concerning slavery and the argument put forth by most libertarians concerning marijuana and most other morals laws that exist in the United States.
There are indeed obvious and significant differences between slavery and marijuana. What needs to be acknowledged is that the libertarian argument shares the same “don’t care” indifference of Senator Douglas. If we recognize that something is indeed wrong, how can we not insist on laws prohibiting it?
This attitude toward law and governance is enormously important, not simply in the debate over marijuana. The other, more significant example of this indifference and its tragic consequences is our current laws on abortion. Again, the libertarian position is often one of: I wouldn’t do it, but that doesn’t mean we should prevent others from making this choice. If we know something is morally wrong, how can we argue that we “don’t care” whether it is voted up or down?
(’76 Editor) Since our big debate on Colorado drug policy, Feb. 17 at CCU, I’ve been repeatedly asked who won or what conclusion emerged. There’s no simple answer in light of the cross-cutting perspectives from our five debaters – legislators Shawn Mitchell and Tom Massey, psychiatrist Chris Thurstone, and attorneys Carol Chambers (opposed to outright legalization of marijuana) and Jessica Corry (in favor of same) – and the three-layer complexity of the subject.
(1) How to regulate medical marijuana, (2) what to do about marijuana’s illicit recreational users, and (3) how much to use state power for the individual’s own good, were all topics in play during the 75-minute discussion.
Questions from the panelists on stage (myself, CCU senior Natasha Starceski, and CCU freshman Drew Goorabian), along with written questions submitted from the audience, most of which weren’t put to the debaters because of time limitations, are tabulated in full below. They reflected a commendable degree of thoughtfulness on a difficult matter of governance and civic standards, I believe.
Moderator's Opening Question: What difference can you see, if any, between America’s failed experiment with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, and the marijuana prohibition of today, with or without a medical exception?
Is the federal heavy hand on marijuana an example of the welfare clause gone amuck or do we actually need a stronger federal government than Mr. Madison believed? Was Madison wrong?
What do you think of legalizing marijuana but requiring drug testing for welfare/tax supported programs?
Would the legalization of marijuana in Colorado provide an economic boost within the state; does the economic boost outweigh the detrimental effects on society as a whole?
If marijuana is legalized, what can be expected when it comes to the price and legal limit? How much is too much, and what will the legal buying age be?
If marijuana is legalized, should its regulation be handled by state or federal authorities?
It is common knowledge that the prohibition of alcohol did not work – why do you think the prohibition of marijuana is any more effective?
Generally, marijuana has the same psychological effects as alcohol and the same physiological effects as tobacco, yet alcohol and tobacco are legal. Alcohol, if used in excess, can lead to alcohol poisoning and kill a person, but it is impossible to O.D. on marijuana. Why then is tobacco and alcohol legal, but marijuana is not?
Dr. Thurstone: Could you please explain smoked marijuana verses a pill or the patch?
Ms. Corry: Part of your stance is that legalizing marijuana will help reduce our deficits… How do you balance that with the cost that this issue has placed on local government at a time when they are struggling to provide basic services in this economy?
Ms. Corry: Is there any free market (perhaps human sex trafficking) that government should limit or eliminate?
Why is medicinal marijuana so much more expensive than illegal marijuana?
Dr. Thurstone suggests that marijuana increases violent behavior; however, anyone who has used it knows that this is false. Has he ever had any personal, legitimate experience with marijuana?
Would you all agree or disagree that seniors may be more likely to treat ailments such as arthritis with marijuana if it were legalized?
Micah 6:8 says, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.” Since laws are meant to punish those who cause harm to others, how can we justify laws that are more harmful to our citizens than the substances they ingest?
When does state law trump federal law? How does that affect federal dollars to our state for drug enforcement
Marijuana is known as a “gateway” drug – will this therefore lead to increased use and incidents of heroine, cocaine, meth, etc.?
Rather than enacting immediate government regulation, why don’t we allow the free market to handle the over supply?
Many “conservatives” profess a belief in state sovereignty and the 10th Amendment, yet support the DEA’s recent arrest of a medical marijuana grower who was in compliance with Colorado law. How can one reconcile those two positions?
Making marijuana legal will not prevent the crime we are seeing now like robbery or dispensaries – nor will it prevent a black market. Will your view tolerate this associated crime?
Cain asks God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If the answer is yes, how forceful should I be in protecting my brother from marijuana, or fatty foods, or whatever? Man needs free will to serve God or not and otherwise behave.
I could understand legalizing marijuana if Medicare and Medicaid did not pay for the consequences thereof. Why should Medicare pay for a new liver for an alcoholic?
If drug abusers were allowed to die on a Denver sidewalk, cry out in pain for another joint, then legalization would make some sense. We could make sure our children could see the miseries of a dopey life.
Do you think prohibition of marijuana leads to more problems than just if it was legalized?
Marijuana is known for being a "gateway" drug - therefore, do you foresee an increase use and abuse of other illicit drugs if marijuana were to be come legalized? Would this in turn lead to higher incidence of drug-related crime
Students know it is possible to fake ADD symptoms and get a Ritalin prescription (“my new homework buddy”), so wouldn’t it also be easy for young people to fake and lie their way to a medical marijuana card?
If we legalize marijuana, should we therefore legalize ALL drugs?
Moderator's Closing Question: What is the single most compelling reason Colorado should not go ahead and legalize all marijuana?