Pat Robertson’s flat-out endorsement of full marijuana legalization, on the model of alcohol, isn’t as important now as it would have been two decades ago. But two decades ago it would have been completely unthinkable, and seems to me a significant portent, even if few of the Reverend’s supporters will follow his lead when they vote.

I’m not a fan of alcohol-style legalization – I’m pretty dissatisfied with current alcohol policy, which gives brewers and distillers strong incentives to create and support addiction to the drug they sell, and to oppose any measures that might reduce drinking by heavy drinkers – and would prefer a non-commercial model with growing for personal use and by consumer-owned co-operatives. But it may be the case that full legalization is now that most potent of all social forces: a bad idea whose time has come.

At some risk of seeming immodest, I ought to explain how this remarkable development came to be. As it happens, Brother Robertson and I were reading Scripture together when I pointed out that the “sweet calamus” that formed part of the Holy Oil of the Temple is believed by some scholars to have been cannabis. More to the point, there are parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelations that make much more sense if the reader has prepared himself for pious study by getting really, really, really stoned. It appears that my chaver (study partner) found my humble words persuasive.

Please keep this confidential.

Footnote See Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, and Kleiman, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, forthcoming this June from Oxford University Press. Since I’m only about 20% of the author, I’m 80% allowed to say that it’s a great book. (And no, it doesn’t include the speculation about kaneh bosem, which remains a minority opinion among those who – unlike me – are qualified to judge.

Second footnote Seriously, this shouldn’t be a surprise, either theologically or in terms of political philosophy. Robertson presents himself as a Christian and as a small-government conservative.

There’s nothing inconsistent between Christianity and legal cannabis. Robertson’s emphasis on persuasion rather than punishment is fully consistent with the Gospel world-view. The Bible is pretty tough about non-marital sex, but its views on intoxication are not very clear, and on any rational basis pot-smoking is surely not worse than drinking. So it’s hard to argue, from Christian principles, that the arrangement of allowing alcohol and banning cannabis has a strong moral basis.

Any small-government conservative ought to agree with him that, absent some large external effects, the government shouldn’t meddle with an adult’s choice of intoxicants. (I’m not a small-government conservative, so I see things differently. And of course a Burkean traditionalist, who distrusts the idea of meddling with established practice, might support current policy just because it’s established.)

So what Robertson is saying is what we ought to be able to expect someone with Robertson’s professed beliefs to say. The fact that, in this case, he has chosen principle over the culture wars is creditable to him, but our surprise about it is discreditable to the political movement he represents.

Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.