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Jewish World Review August 22, 2001 / 3 Elul 5761

Don Feder

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Conservative magazine goes to pot -- IF you're looking for a good pot party on the right (Edmund Burke meets Cheech and Chong), check out the pages of National Review.

Legalization of marijuana is founder William F. Buckley Jr.'s pet cause. (Mr. Common Touch has admitted to toking on his yacht in international waters.) Senior Editor Richard Brookhiser thinks marijuana is medicine. In the Aug. 20 issue, Editor in Chief Richard Lowry weighs in with "Weed Whackers -- The anti-marijuana forces and why they're wrong."

The article reads like a memo from the desk of George Soros, the legalization movement's sugar daddy. Lowry writes, "Marijuana is widely used, and for the vast majority of its users is nearly harmless and represents a temporary experiment or enthusiasm."

He snorts at the gateway theory -- that pot leads to more potent narcotics. "Since marijuana is the most widely used and least dangerous illegal drug, it makes sense that people inclined to use harder-to-find drugs will start with it first."

It's not that the high from marijuana disposes users to seek more intense experiences. For Lowry, inclination exists in a vacuum.

When legalization skeptics note that roughly 100,000 enter rehab programs for marijuana each year, Lowry counters that most are ordered into the programs by the courts, as punishment for possession.

And who orders them to go to emergency rooms? According to the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research, in 1999, marijuana accounted for 79,088 emergency-room visits, slightly more than heroin.

In 1998, 60 percent of juvenile arrestees in the District of Columbia tested positive for pot.

Here again, Lowry reverses cause and effect. Teens don't get into trouble using marijuana, he insists. Troubled youth are attracted to the weed, it being one more way to rebel.

But parent after parent has told me: "My kid was normal (studious, well-behaved) until he started smoking pot. Then his personality changed overnight."

Analyzing data collected from 1994 to 1996, the National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse found a direct relationship between marijuana use and "delinquent/depressive behavior."

Of those who used marijuana one to 11 times in the previous year, 7 percent were on probation, compared to 20 percent who used it at least weekly.

The behavior tracked included "ran away from home," "physically attacked people" and "thought about suicide." In each instance, percentages involved in pathological behavior went up as frequency of use increased. Lowry doubtless would say it's coincidental -- that moderately troubled teens are somewhat attracted to pot and very troubled teens are very attracted.

He claims the Dutch experiment with decriminalization shows just how nearly harmless the weed is. According to one of the drug-lobby sources he quotes, "Removing the prohibition against possession does not increase cannabis use."

Actually, the Dutch experience refutes this. In the early '80s, Holland decriminalized possession of small quantities of the drug. Now, over 800 coffeehouses are licensed to sell various cannabis products.

In a May 9 editorial, The Wall Street Journal reported the nation saw a 250 percent increase in adolescent pot use following legalization. Between 1991 and 1996, the Dutch Ministry of Justice reported a 25 percent rise in violent crime, at a time when crime rates fell in the United States.

The Dutch wish someone would wake them from the nightmare. In a poll by Eramus University in Rotterdam, 61 percent said all drugs should be illegal and 75 percent disagreed with the police policy of only arresting addicts when they cause a public nuisance.

Why are some conservatives, like the National Review crowd, taking the magical mystery tour?

Beating the drums for legalization makes them look cool -- or so they think. It's a way gaining acceptance in a culture whose institutions are controlled by the '60s generation.

In its first issue, the editors of National Review said they intended to stand athwart the course of history, shouting, "Halt." Now, they're standing there with a joint in one hand, a copy of High Times in the other and a Beavis and Butt-head grin, asking, "Heh, heh, what's happin', man?"

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate