The Gazette’s Betrayal of Conservatives

The Gazette recently published an editorial declaring that marijuana is “officially” a problem in Colorado. They followed that with a series called “Clearing the Haze.” The irony of the name is exceeded only by the equally offensive “Patriot Act.” It’s hard to know where to start in assessing the problems with the Gazette’s declaration of war on weed. There’s the false narrative, the laundry list of logical fallacies, and the attack on bedrock conservative principles. It’s a pretty impressive fail for a newspaper that has deservedly won so many awards for journalistic excellence. But there it is. And who is big enough to call them on their mistakes?

There are those who routinely bash the paper for its right wing views. I am not one of them. I have been reading the Gazette since 1965 (I even got the paper in Vietnam), and its editorial pages introduced me to conservative writers such as M. Stanton Evans, James Kilpatrick, and the genius of William F. Buckley. As a faithful reader, however, I have seen the editorial staff get issues wrong, such as Vietnam and Iraq. But on this issue of marijuana, the editorial staff has really lost their ability to reason in a way that is reminiscent of William Randolph Hearst’s cynical but successful attack on weed in the Thirties.

The narrative the Gazette is trying to peddle, that voters were bamboozled by big money pot entrepreneurs who hid the ability of powerful new strains of marijuana to fry the brains of unsuspecting youth, is both insulting to voters and demonstrably wrong. Yes, today’s pot is much stronger than it was in the Sixties. But it is the result of growers cultivating higher THC content to skirt law enforcement; fewer plants meant it was easier to escape arrest. Scotch is much stronger than beer or wine. So what? We don’t ban alcohol because some of it is stronger. Or rather we did and found out the cure was worse than the disease. People have to learn how to handle intoxicants of varying strengths. Better they should do it legally and openly than in an alley. And it is the illegal nature of cultivating a naturally occurring plant that is directly responsible for the increase in potency. Hash, hash oil, and pot oil are all the result of the same prohibition. Millions of Americans handle the stronger weed every day without any problems. Many are even very successful in their fields. Snoop Dog and Willie Nelson come to mind.

The paper’s willingness to accept a single report generated by an avowed pot hater as proof of a crisis is baffling. First of all, other scientifically conducted studies contradict the “official” federal study they cite. Exhibit A is a survey of over a thousand police precincts around the country about drug problems in their area. Marijuana was dead last for all of the cops surveyed ( 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary ). Contrast the Denver Post’s response to the same study that caused the Gazette to adopt a Chicken Little stance. The Post found the study puzzling and said more time and research is needed before coming to a judgment. This is in part because other studies suggest a decline in teenage pot use as well as drops in suicide rates for both Colorado and Washington. The Gazette’s citation of a single study is especially odd in light of their support of climate deniers in the face of thousands of scientific papers to the contrary.

This use of confirmation bias is only one of the logical fallacies used. Hasty generalizations, scare tactics, and false authority are a few of the others. At least they avoided ad hominem arguments; but since it is an ongoing campaign, I will hold off on that judgment. It is a comment on current political discourse, however, that the Gazette has gone from the brilliantly crafted pieces of rhetoric by Buckley to using basic sophistry tricks found in a Comp 101 textbook.

The most grievous problem for the Gazette’s zeal to return to the failed policies of Prohibition is the utter disregard for bedrock conservative principles. Small government, personal rights, capitalism, and personal responsibility are some of the fundamental ideas of conservatism. Drug laws, contrary to conservatism, have expanded government, led to the highest incarceration rate in the world, and created a blur between law enforcement and the military. Forfeiture laws, no knock raids, and a shoot first attitude are no longer confined to “rough neighborhoods.”

Where are the personal rights and responsibilities in marijuana prohibition? The Gazette can’t attack the “nanny state” one week and then advocate for it the next. Most people understand that pot is bad for kids. But so are alcohol, tobacco, and the most abused drug in the country—prescription pain meds. It is unfortunate that there are people, some are even parents, who are willing to supply kids with these harmful substances. But advocating restrictions on responsible adults is not the answer. Worse, it encourages those who want to restrict our rights in the name of whatever religious or moral crusade they believe in. When a conservative organization abandons its principles to pursue personal agendas, Liberals win. Gazette readers can start to believe that conservative principles are fluid and more like the moral relativism of Progressives instead of the permanent, objective ideals the paper claims to advocate for.

We have serious drug problems in this country. We have inadequate mental health and rehab systems. But pot is the least of our problems. Forty-four people die every day from overdosing on prescription meds. Hundreds of thousands die from alcohol and tobacco use every year. More people have died this year by guns in the hands of toddlers than from pot. How about having the talented Gazette staff investigate and write about the emerging science of addiction? How about real ideas for helping people overcome their mental health and substance abuse problems so they can become the self reliant citizens a vibrant democracy needs? To paraphrase Ed Bircham, a long time sponsor of the paper: “Come on Gazette, you can do better than this.”

Photo By: Jerome Parent