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Marijuana-legalization critics' assumptions about pot users are offensive, advocate says

Earlier this week, we rounded up the cool reaction by some national pundits, including the New York Times' David Brooks and the Daily Beast's Tina Brown, to the start of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.

Among those with negative responses to the pieces we mentioned was Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. Aldworth found many of the takes to be narrow and ignorant, as well as perpetuating stereotypes of marijuana users she finds reprehensible.

"These paternalistic, ridiculous assumptions about who marijuana users are and what their experiences should be like are downright offensive," Aldworth says.

As we've reported, the Times' Brooks created the blueprint for high-brow naysayers of cannabis legalization with a column headlined "Weed. Been There. Done That."

David Brooks.
David Brooks.

At the outset of the piece, Brooks writes, "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 friendships."

However, Brooks goes on to note that he and his pals eventually stopped smoking pot. His personal reasons weren't what he sees as the substance's many bad qualities: He argues that "it is addictive in about one in six teenagers," "smoking and driving is a good way to get yourself killed," and "young people who smoke go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests." Rather, he simply concluded that "stoned people do stupid things." After one such incident, he admits that he felt like a "total loser."

He adds: "In healthy societies...government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned." And while "citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom," 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 be."

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus echoed many of Brooks's concerns in a piece of her own, labeled "The Perils of Legalized Pot." And via Twitter, Brown suggested that "legal weed contributes to us being a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese."

Cumulatively, these assertions leave Aldworth slack-jawed as much for what was left out of them as for the material included.

"None of these columns addressed to any significant degree the incredible burden that marijuana prohibition has put on communities of color and poor communities in general," she says. "And that's demonstrative of how blinded these people are to any experience other than their own."

"In a year or two, or maybe a decade," she believes, "the vast majority of Americans are going to look at marijuana prohibition and see it as a failure even more significant than the failure of alcohol prohibition."

How so?

Continue for more of our interview with Betty Aldworth about marijuana-legalization critics.

For one thing, Aldworth points out that marijuana prohibition has lasted much longer than did the ban on alcohol in this country -- the better part of a century versus just over a decade. But more important is her view that pot laws "have been part of a driver that has created an America where half of black men are arrested before they're 23. And it's helped create an America where an incredibly large percentage of our population overall is in prison -- and most of those people are people of color."

Aldworth acknowledges that marijuana prohibition is only a part of the much excoriated War on Drugs generally. But she says pot-oriented police actions "underpin a lot of the enforcement percentage-wise." She feels that's especially true "when you look at the incredible toll on Mexico and Central America, where the impact of marijuana prohibition cannot be ignored.

"The legacy of marijuana prohibition isn't going to be that people were smarter when marijuana was illegal, or we were better able to compete with the Chinese," she goes on. "The legacy of marijuana prohibition is going to be a shameful legacy."

As such, she was cheered by the battering the opinions of Brooks, Marcus, Brown and others took online.

"One of the things that was really exciting after those columns came out was the response from most of the Internet, which was basically, 'Who do these people think they are?'" she says. "A very large number of people came out, shared their own stories and talked about their experiences -- and they called David Brooks and Ruth Marcus and others on the carpet for not addressing the social-justice harms that come from marijuana prohibition. And I think that sparked a really interesting dialogue."

Today, she maintains, "being opposed to medical marijuana is a really extremist position out of touch with the vast majority of Americas. And being opposed to legal marijuana use is going to be the same in the next several years."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Will pot legalization help China defeat America? The national media reacts."