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DRUGS FLOWER POWER? : How Little Marijuana Mattered : Confessions of youthful indiscretion are hypocritical babble. And look at wherethose who experimented in the ‘60s are today.

<i> Michael Kinsley writes the TRB column in the New Republic. </i>

Although I have no special desire to be governor of Texas, and would actively prefer not to become head of the Office of Thrift Supervision (overseer of the savings and loan mess), the traumas of aspirants to these posts in recent days compel me to make the following statement.

Like many members of my generation--Sen. Al Gore and Rep. Newt Gingrich, to name but two--I, too, experimented with marijuana in the distant past.

It was in a party situation during my freshman year in college. Someone handed me a marijuana cigarette and I took a puff. Maybe two. I deeply regret this youthful indiscretion.

I found the drug had no effect on me whatsoever, and I determined not to experiment with illicit substances any further. Instead, I got throwing-up drunk in a manner more suited to one with aspirations toward a leadership role in this great country of ours.

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However, a few days later I experimented with marijuana once again and enjoyed it a good deal more. This youthful indiscretion I also deeply regret.

During the next several years, overcome by the spirit of scientific inquiry, I experimented with marijuana perhaps 200 or more times. I am not sure of the exact number, but I do know that I deeply, deeply regret all of these youthful indiscretions.

As a law school student in the mid-1970s, I continued to conduct occasional experiments with marijuana, heedless of the baleful influence this apparently was having on impressionable members of the faculty like Douglas Ginsburg. In 1987, Ginsburg lost his chance to become a Supreme Court justice after it was revealed that he had smoked pot while teaching at that very law school. Although my law school experiments were few in number, I deeply regret each one of them.

Unlike the string of prominent Americans who have come forward lately to confess their dope experiences, I cannot pinpoint with the same remarkable clarity the last time I experimented with marijuana. Was it in the “distant” past? All I can say for sure is that it was in the past, somewhat distant, that it was an indiscretion, somewhat less youthful, and that I deeply regret it.

These days my drug of choice is decaf. I drink it to forget. Knocks me right out. But if, perchance, I find myself experimenting with marijuana on some future occasion--which won’t happen until the law, or at least the Zeitgeist, has changed--it will be an elderly indiscretion, which I regret. Deeply.

The 1960s are said to have been a period of cultural revolution, with marijuana playing a big part. Surely, though, the lesson we are learning as more and more people come forward with tales of their “experiments” is how little effect it all really had on the culture. The fact that nerds like Douglas Ginsburg (or the author of this column), goody-goodies like Al Gore and fast operators like Newt Gingrich all smoked dope shows both how widespread the phenomenon was and how little it mattered.

How little it mattered is a rebuke to marijuana’s fans as well as its foes. Pot didn’t stop Ginsburg from becoming a right-wing legal scholar or Gingrich from becoming House Minority Whip. This is hardly what Flower Power was supposed to lead to. On the other hand, it didn’t leave Timothy Ryan unable to tackle the S&L; catastrophe. The Great Pot Experiment produced millions of conventional, upstanding citizens, plus a few journalists.

It now appears that Ginsburg was a victim of temporary cultural confusion. On the marijuana question, out-and-out lying may not be necessary. President Bush and Drug Czar William Bennett have said that past pot-smoking should not disqualify someone from high office. The revelation simply needs the right ingredients: experiment . . . distant past . . . youthful indiscretion . . . deep regret. . . .

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Of course you can’t be excused for “experimenting” with marijuana as a college kid today. Massachusetts Atty. Gen. James Shannon, age 37, recently made the boilerplate confession about past “experimentation,” but now favors mandatory prison time for even casual users caught twice. He says that his attitude has changed. As the Church Lady says on “Saturday Night Live”: How convenient.

All these ex-Communist-style confessions-cum-recantations about past drug use leave a bad taste in my mouth. What I’m waiting for is some politician to announce that he used to indulge in marijuana every now and then, and that--whatever he thinks about more serious drug problems--he doesn’t especially regret it. Maybe even that what he really regrets is all the experiments he didn’t conduct in his youth, perhaps because he was too busy plotting his scramble up the Establishment heights.

To have used marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s, when everyone was supposed to use marijuana, and to deplore marijuana in the 1980s and 1990s, when everyone is supposed to deplore it, is just a bit too unsurprising.


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