FCD Reflects Growing Tolerance

Last week, each Andover student attended at least two Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) workshops. However, PA students were not the only ones discussing marijuana at that time; in fact, in the same state, eight Democratic presidential candidates were engaged in a comparable discussion. Interestingly, CNN’s debate with eight of the nine Democratic candidates last Tuesday included a question regarding the candidates’ history of marijuana use. Senator John Kerry, Senator John Edwards, and Dr. Howard Dean all responded that they had used marijuana in the past. These candidates answered frankly, without supplying an explanation or justification. They spoke forthrightly and did not seem ashamed of their conduct. On the other hand, three candidates answered in the negative. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman all denied using the illegal substance. In addition, these candidates added justification or supplementary statements regarding the drug’s presence in our nation; Kucinich noted, “I think it ought to be decriminalized.” This is not the first time that political figures have been confronted with inquiries regarding their use of drugs. As reported by The New York Times in 1992, President Bill Clinton confirmed his use of the illegal substance marijuana: “[When] I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale.” This admission was reported widely in the press, and Clinton’s attempt to minimize his conduct was repeatedly criticized. The issue of past drug use also has been a factor in US Supreme Court Justice selections. In 1987, US Court of Appeals Judge and former Professor at Harvard Law School, Douglas Ginsburg, was nominated to the Supreme Court. Ginsburg’s admission that he used marijuana as a student in the 1960’s and as a professor in the late 1970’s, later compelled him to withdraw from consideration as a Supreme Court Justice. These earlier incidents, where Clinton attempted to downplay his use of marijuana and Ginsburg withdrew from pursuing his nomination to the Supreme Court, demonstrate the extent to which our nation has changed. A mere 10 to 15 years ago, an admission of marijuana-use was considered harmful, if not fatal, to a political career. The prevailing national view was that the country’s leaders could not be associated with marijuana, even in their youth. However, it seems the wind has shifted. The recent CNN debate in which three presidential candidates admitted to smoking marijuana sparked little controversy, let alone attention. In the next day’s newspapers, this aspect of the debate generally was not discussed. Instead, many journalists concentrated on the other Democratic candidates’ attacks on Dr. Dean, sparked by his intention to represent people who carry the Confederate flag. The lack of media and public attention to the candidates’ statements on drug-use has many implications. It indicates that our national culture has changed. We now focus less on political leaders’ drug and alcohol histories and, therefore, waste less energy stigmatizing them. It also signifies a willingness to accept that our national leaders are human and may have experimented with illegal drugs, particularly in their youth. The candidates’ statements also reflect our nation’s growing acceptance of, and ability to talk openly about, marijuana. Political candidates generally are not endorsing the use of marijuana, although some have called for its decriminalization. However, marijuana has lost its shock value. There is a new understanding that, in the grand scheme of things, it does not truly matter if some political or judicial candidate smoked marijuana as a teenager. So, last week, while I attended the “Pot, Why Not?” workshop, eight Democratic presidential candidates also found themselves discussing marijuana. Both the candidates and I were encouraged to speak openly and truthfully about marijuana. No one, in either the workshop or the debate, was criticized, victimized or humiliated based on their experiences with marijuana, whether one inhaled or not. Indeed, our national culture has changed.