David Brooks' Marijuana Confession Generates Ridicule & Debate Online

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Marijuana colorado
A fully budded marijuana plant ready for trimming is seen at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of its grand opening on New Year's Day in Northglenn, Colo., Dec. 31, 2013.

New York Times columnist David Brooks is known for a lot of things, but up to now, smoking pot wasn't one of them. His decision to reveal his past dalliances with marijuana was a key part of a Friday column in which he made clear that though he doesn't believe occasionally partaking is a terrible crime, he thinks the legalization of the drug in Colorado and Washington state will most likely have negative consequences for the populace. Hey, his oft-cited anonymous "research" says so, so who is anyone to argue?

In his latest piece, Brooks admits that he toked a few times in high school, but that after "a few embarrassing incidents" brought on by hitting the pipe, he decided to permanently forgo the stuff in favor of "higher pleasures," no pun intended (we think).

Brooks says he didn't quit out of concern for his health or safety but rather because he didn't like the way a friend of his "became a full-on stoner," then goes on to explain how the push to legalize it is morally wrong, though it does expand the limits of personal freedom, which is something Brooks is usually all for.

His arguments against allowing people to get stoned center around the concept that a government should push people in the direction of creative and productive pursuits (like writing lengthy, out-of-touch diatribes for increasingly irrelevant broadsheets?) rather than toward a life tainted by the sticky icky. Plus, legal weed will necessarily create more "users," some of whom will be kids, Brooks predicts.

It's not a very convincing or well-researched piece, and it is not likely to change anyone's opinions on the issue of legalization, but it did leave him open to ridicule while sparking a more meaningful online debate about pot and its place in modern society.

Perhaps the most compelling response to the issue came from Gary Greenberg, a writer and psychotherapist from Connecticut who claims in a new blog post that he was part of the clique that Brooks smoked pot with in high school and that he is the "full-on stoner" the columnist described, though he only smokes about once a week nowadays.

Greenberg outs Brooks' stoned antics in vivid detail in the piece, describing the way the columnist bumbled through a presentation in English class while zonked, and explaining that he thinks Brooks really quit hitting the green because of a scare when they were pulled over during a stoned ride by a cop who let Brooks go thanks to his family's good name.

But Greenberg also calls Brooks out for his hypocrisy, and questions his decision to cast his old smoking buddy as a strung-out loser who let the bad side of drugs lead him down a dark path. He ends his response by inviting Brooks and the rest of the gang to fly out to Denver for some "pot tourism," suggesting that he should let his hair down, turn on, tune in and drop out, like in the old days. It would be interesting to see how his views would evolve if Brooks were to take Greenberg up on the challenge, but let's not hold our breath for that one.

Ruth Marcus, a colleague of Brooks in the punditocracy but for the Washington Post, also offered a thoughtful alternative to Brooks' take. Though her piece hit the newsstands the day before Brooks' column, it was perfectly poised to mock its central conceits. Marcus, too, is concerned that teens will have an easier time accessing pot in states that have made it legal, and she doesn't seem to be fully on board with the legalization movement. She's somewhat split on the issue, and presents evidence to back her stance. But she also touches on the downsides of keeping pot illicit, particularly the thousands of lives that are ruined every year over petty marijuana-related crimes, and the havoc that this wreaks on communities. Plus, she points out, it's not like teens are having a hard time finding weed in states where it's illegal.

Most tellingly, Marcus -- who admits she hit the bong a fair bit "back in the age of bell-bottoms and polyester" -- says that now that it's legal in some places, she expects to "check out some Bubba Kush. Why not?" Hers is a more nuanced argument, and one that doesn't advocate an all-or-nothing, abstinence-or-bedlam approach to the issue of marijuana use. She is instead genuinely concerned about the potential problems legalization poses, but willing to see how the Colorado and Washington experiments pan out before condemning them as outright abominations. In the end though, Marcus would likely be fairly sympathetic to Brooks' views, and her piece is tellingly titled "The Perils of Legalized Pot."

The Internet, however, is not so kind to Brooks. Twitter erupted Friday in a display of open disdain and mockery. Some found him ill-qualified to comment on the issue and felt his admission to be a disingenuous ploy, while others felt his argument was too weak and unsubstantiated to warrant publication in the Times. Others, as is always the case, simply made jokes.

Twitter user @bfoht split the difference between these types of responses in his rebuttal: "sure it isn’t #Reasonable or #Sensible to smoke pot, but idiots have a right to pursue happiness too." Let us be stupid, he seems to be saying, and both Brooks and Marcus both seem to have done their fair share of that back when they were smoking it up, and in the many days since.

Meanwhile, @mirkel suggested that passing a peace pipe may be the best way for Brooks to exonerate himself of the claims he made in his column, which haven't gone over well with much of the Twitterati: "The only way out of this for David Brooks is to go on @billmaher and smoke a joint with @SnoopLion and PTSD veteran @Seanazzariti."

If only. Can't imagine the spike in munchie sales if that were to hit the airwaves.

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