The Kennedy clan has had well-documented travails with demon alcohol. Some members of America’s royal family have even had their destinies redrawn by their use. It could be argued that a drunk driving accident at Chappaquiddick cost the family another Presidency. Perhaps fittingly, then, their long and storied relationship with booze goes back to the very beginning–it was the saloon business that got them started with their unique American experience. To this day, some members of the family are still addled by the stuff, and any conversation about them is riddled with hush-toned tales of the latest escapade, whether it be tragic or merely gossip-worthy.
But not all of them have allowed the family curse to seal their fate. Christopher Kennedy Lawford and his cousin Patrick have taken their family’s commitment to social justice and focused it on furthering the cause of Americans in “recovery” from addiction, a massive group of people still living in shrouded mystery and marginalization. Patrick Kennedy has been a strong supporter of the mental health parity bill, which, in short, would make it mandatory for insurance companies to cover mental health they same way they cover physical health. In other words, insurance companies would no longer be able to feed the myth that many of the conditions that plague man are character-related, and they would have to pay for the treatment of addiction just as they would for diabetes or cancer.
Patrick has taken on the issue of the stigma of addictive disease, and I thank him for that. But I can’t, for the life of me, understand his vehement opposition to legalizing a substance that is safer than the one that not only made his family so wealthy in the first place but which continues to hang around their collective neck like an albatross.
His arguments are weak. For starters, he boldly claims that more people would smoke marijuana if it were legal. I don’t think this is true. The “statistics” might increase, but I think that would be almost entirely attributable to the fact that more people would honestly report that they smoke marijuana. That’s a big difference. But what if a few more people grabbed a joint and took a haul off of it, so what? Intoxication is here to stay, my friends and it is quite simply a government overreach to tell people how they can do it. It’s simply a fact that it would be far better to have a population intoxicated on marijuana than on booze. The data is quite clear in terms of which is better for public safety, for example. When was the last time you saw a bloody bar fight between two people who were stoned on weed?
Kennedy also argues that marijuana isn’t harmless. He’s correct about that–what is harmless? — It is less harmful than other methods of intoxication and it goes on regardless of its legal status. He also worries about marketing toward kids. But that’s not a reason to make people who use it criminals. it’s a reason to have careful regulation of sales and marketing. If Kennedy wants to take on the risks of marketing to kids, why not take on alcohol–where we already see it happening–rather than worry himself silly about what might happen with marijuana. Alcohol is a frequent sponsor of college sporting events. Why does alcohol get a free pass, Patrick?
But the thing that concerns me most about Kennedy’s position is that he and his cousin Chris are among of the very few self-disclosing “sober” members of the American elite. We need them, their voices, their ability to open doors , and their leadership. What we don’t need is pandering to established useless policy that does nothing about the problem of intoxication or the challenges of entering a life of recovery. Of course, if there is one thing a Kennedy likes more than scotch and chasing skirts, it is running for office. Patrick sounds like a candidate–but not a recovery and mental health advocate. What is worse is he sounds like a candidate on the take from the powerful and unscrutinized alcohol lobby hell bent on keeping their monopoly on intoxication. His efforts to keep alcohol as the only legal form of intoxication hurt families, communities, and recovering people. I am a massive fan of the Kennedy clan, particularly of Bobby Kennedy and their tradition of using their prestige for social justice causes. Patrick would do well to read some of his uncle’s writings and give it some sincere thought.