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April 6, 2005 - The Los Angeles Times (CA)

The Pot Thickens In Library Ruckus

By Dana Parsons

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Even controversies that have the weight of a helium isotope -- such as the one I'm about to launch into -- sometimes deserve airing. It's important to know what issues disturb the souls of our fellow citizens. And, in those cases, to figure out what the rest of us can do to help them find something else to complain about.

The flap of the moment revolves around a scheduled appearance April 15-16 at the Newport Beach Central Library by author and Atlantic Monthly correspondent Eric Schlosser. He's scheduled to talk about his bestseller, "Fast Food Nation," described as chronicling everything you may or may not want to know about the fast-food industry that helped shape (my own pun) modern American culture.

Schlosser's talks on the 15th and 16th are $55 affairs for adults willing to pay to hear him and get dinner and wine. However, in keeping with the tradition of the Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series, Schlosser will meet, between those appearances, with local high school students. He'll talk about his book and take questions.

This is where our plot thickens. Or, if you will, thins.

Adam Probolsky, an Orange County pollster and political consultant, discovered that Schlosser also wrote "Reefer Madness," a book that, among other things, decries the criminalization of marijuana as part of the larger war on drugs. He notified other parents and school officials, and their unease built into what Probolsky calls "a swirl out there" because Schlosser is being described as a "mentor" at the Saturday morning session.

"It's not that he's evil or that he should be silenced," he says. "The main thrust is that he shouldn't be mentoring kids." Probolsky says his concern is that, even if the marijuana issue doesn't come up, the teens might be impressed with him and then go home and research him on the Internet.

That's where, Probolsky says, they'll probably discover his thoughts on marijuana. Among those thoughts, he says in citing a Schlosser excerpt from an interview, is that Schlosser said he'd rather have his kids smoke pot than down hard liquor. As a designated "mentor," Probolsky argues, it sends a mixed message to teens who are told to avoid pot at all costs.

For a moment, I gave Probolsky his due. In the abstract, maybe it's worth talking about.

But that's the problem. It's all abstraction. The "controversy" goes poof like a puff of pot smoke.

I don't buy for a second that the kind of kids who come to a library on a Saturday morning would be intellectually overwhelmed by talk about marijuana decriminalization.

Today's kids know all they need to know about pot. But that's not really the point; the point is that even noted conservatives William F. Buckley and former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz have lamented the war on drugs as a failure. In so many words, they've said the same things as Schlosser.

Would anyone question their spending an hour with teens?

And, by the way: Schlosser says he's not pro-pot in the first place. By phone from his home in Northern California, he says, "I don't want to encourage anyone to smoke pot. I have two kids. I don't want them to smoke pot. I have no problem being harshly criticized for my views, but it would really be helpful if people knew what those views were."

I'm not here to argue pot laws or what Schlosser has or hasn't said. Probolsky says the issue remains "totally alive," even if no one is quite sure what to do about it.

What should be done is to remember that ideas shouldn't scare us. Ideas shouldn't prompt parents or, especially, school officials to be putting even minor heat on public libraries for the speakers they recruit. That notion is 10 times more threatening than anything Schlosser -- an accomplished writer whom students ought to be exposed to -- might say in an hour with them.

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