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Mayor Walsh's 'Shaky Science' On Marijuana

Wendy Kaminer: On the subject of drug use, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh seems stupefied by unshakeable faith in the universal truth of his own experiences. In this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 file photo, Walsh speaks to reporters in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Wendy Kaminer: On the subject of drug use, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh seems stupefied by unshakeable faith in the universal truth of his own experiences. In this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 file photo, Walsh speaks to reporters in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)
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I smoked my first joint shortly after high school graduation in the late 1960s and, like so many of my classmates, smoked marijuana regularly though college, when it was cheap and plentiful. I did not become addicted to marijuana or any other illicit drug, but I did develop a dependency on tobacco, which was much more lethal but perfectly legal. I stopped smoking cigarettes when I graduated from college but continued smoking marijuana for a few years, although a lot less regularly.

I had no moral qualms about my marijuana use, but I was a criminal. So were most of my friends. If penal laws were indiscriminately applied to everyone who broke them, we would have been prosecuted, and if not imprisoned, professionally disabled by criminal records.

Unlike Mayor Walsh, I don’t universalize my experiences ... I don’t assume that my personal observations and beliefs form an adequate basis for public policy.

Mayor Walsh apparently thinks we should have been prosecuted and perhaps sent to some sort of diversion program, for our own good. Marijuana is a “gateway drug,” he insists. Not everyone walks or stumbles through that gate, he acknowledges, but the mayor seems to view people who are not drawn into addiction by marijuana as exceptions to a potentially fatal rule.

What’s the basis for this belief in marijuana’s inevitable evils? His own personal experiences and observations. Walsh, who is either a recovering or recovered alcoholic, depending on your point of view, has “seen too many lives ruined by starting to smoke weed.”

I haven’t. I’ve seen people ruined by alcohol abuse but not by marijuana. So what? Unlike Mayor Walsh, I don’t universalize my experiences or the experiences of friends and acquaintances. I don’t assume that my personal observations and beliefs form an adequate basis for public policy. If you present me with hard evidence that my beliefs don’t accurately reflect reality, I’ll seriously consider it.

If only the mayor would do the same. Instead, he echoes climate change skeptics confronted with evidence that contradicts their politics or personal beliefs: “I’m not a scientist,” Walsh memorably remarked to Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham, when she pointed out the “shaky science” of his position. “He doesn’t want to argue about studies. He said he knows what he knows,” Abraham reports, just like people who “know” that climate change is a hoax and evolution a lie.

This is what’s so disturbing about Mayor Walsh’s opposition to legalization: He refuses to engage in a rational, informed debate about it.

This is what’s so disturbing about Mayor Walsh’s opposition to legalization: He refuses to engage in a rational, informed debate about it.

He resists considering facts that contradict his beliefs. He is unmoved by appeals to logic. Show him evidence that more people have been harmed by the war on drugs in general and the criminalization of marijuana in particular, and he’ll likely respond with pigheaded illogic: “I know what I know.”

The mayor is not stupid, and he is hardly lacking in compassion. But on the subject of drug use, he seems stupefied by unshakeable faith in the universal truth of his own experiences. He believes what he believes, and he doesn’t care to know what he doesn’t know.

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Wendy Kaminer Cognoscenti contributor
Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and social critic, writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion, and popular culture and is currently a correspondent at The Atlantic. Her latest book is "Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity and the ACLU."

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