One Vote Over the Line

Congratulations, potheads. Once again, your friends the ultra-liberal Democrats have lived up to their reputation as primo vote-buyers with Joe Biden's in-flight, Air Force One order to liberate you from your previous criminal acts. I'm talking about his pardoning of those of you who have been convicted of federal drug charges for possession and use of cannabis, marijuana, weed, ganja, Mary Jane and all those other code words you used to describe your 'cool' unplugged habit.

Somewhere parties are being planned by ponytailed aging hippies and drug pushers who see this as but the first step in a journey to legalize all drugs for public use. Flags emblazoned with the green cannabis leaf are going up as Cheech and Chong roll their joints for a parade down Main Streets all over the country. But wait! There's one caveat. This pardon only covers those marijuanians who were prosecuted under federal laws and does not include those convicted by state courts. That's why the President is urging governors and their legislatures to pardon their users/abusers of this Schedule I drug (marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.)  

Just in time for the mid-terms

To those of us who routinely watch the machinations of unscrupulous politicians who brazenly show up with incentives, ready to dole them out to certain demographic groups in the hopes of "encouraging their votes," this is a paint-by-numbers playbook tactic that the Dems have engaged in since time immemorial. To the less skeptical among us it is a surprising coincidence that just happens to occur a month before an election. Marijuana proponents are no doubt hailing this presidential action and are already taking out the poster board and Sharpies in their suburban garages to create version 2.0 of the 'Joints-R-Us' signs as they pull on their Birkenstocks for the long march (with weed in hand) to face their state's legislators, pushing for amnesty for their plant-based band of brothers.

Their crusade will be easier in states that have already legalized the federally illegal substance but they will not be deterred. They are prepared to take the fight all the way to the highest courts. In 1919, just two months after the 'Great War' (WWI) ended and America was celebrating, the Congress ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution making it illegal to make or sell alcoholic spirits, and this prohibition lasted for 14 years. During that time, the illegal trade in booze flourished like the street corner marijuana industry has for decades. Under enormous pressure, the Congress finally realized that it could not legislate morality and reversed the 18th Amendment. The liquor flowed and the rich distillers and brewers got richer. America celebrated its right to get blotto once again.

The hypocrisy of prohibition and the Congress' capitulation to powerful business interests is best summed up by the famous Casablanca film line delivered by Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) upon entering Rick's Place: "I'm shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here." It perfectly describes certain state officials' attitude during the rise of marijuana use. Pretending that the problem doesn’t exist is preferable to running the risk of losing the stoner vote, so many politicians turned a blind eye to the marijuana epidemic and in so doing condemned millions of young people to lives of perpetual social disconnect. The result? Eighteen states have fully legalized marijuana for both medicinal and 'recreational' (personal) use, and more are on the way.

"People should be able to do what they want with their own bodies."

That is a popular chant by pro-drug and pro-abortion groups all over the country. And while it speaks to the Libertarian laissez-faire view of life, it ignores certain basic questions that must be answered about government's role in protecting the vulnerable among us. Because of the loosening of former laws against marijuana use, the debate in many states appears to be over, but the data collection and research on the effects of unrestrained marijuana use will continue at government and private institutions. One illuminating article (out of many) on drug addiction was released in October of 2015 by the National Institute of Health, "Biology of Addiction: Drugs and Alcohol Can Hijack Your Brain." In it, the NIH states that "People with addiction lose control over their actions. They crave and seek out drugs, alcohol, or other substances no matter what the cost -- even at the risk of damaging friendships, hurting family, or losing jobs." The article goes on with: "A healthy brain rewards healthy behaviors -- like exercising, eating, or bonding with loved ones. It does this by switching on brain circuits that make you feel wonderful, which then motivates you to repeat those behaviors. In contrast, when you’re in danger, a healthy brain pushes your body to react quickly with fear or alarm, so you’ll get out of harm’s way. If you’re tempted by something questionable -- like eating ice cream before dinner or buying things you can’t afford -- the front regions of your brain can help you decide if the consequences are worth the actions. But when you’re becoming addicted to a substance, that normal hardwiring of helpful brain processes can begin to work against you."

I would argue that like drug dependence, addiction to unhealthy libertine (not libertarian) ideology can have the same effect on us and work -- ever so slowly but steadily -- to disrupt our ability to make good decisions about our health and our politics. Et tu Biden?

Stephan Helgesen is a retired career U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in 30 countries for 25 years during the Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush Administrations. He is the author of twelve books, six of which are on American politics and has written over 1,300 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He operates a political news story aggregator website, He can be reached at:

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