It may be a little much to say that every person in North America has taken psychoactive substances—but it's not too far off. If we want to disqualify from holding public office every person who has used one substance or another, including powerful pharmaceutical drugs, then we will have a very reduced pool of talent. Of course, that requirement would eliminate Barack Obama, who confessed to using drugs in his memoir, albeit while he was a student.
Now, reliable reports are that Toronto police have Mayor Rob Ford on video smoking crack, and the Mayor is reacting against them—both apologizing for his behavior at large, and telling the police to bring the video on.
So what if he did smoke crack? Is the furor due to the accusation that Ford has broken the law, and thus should be legally punished? All right, the police can pursue that case.
Is the accusation that Ford is addicted—that he regularly or constantly smokes crack with serious negative consequences? It would seem to be hard to be an addicted mayor of a major city. That assessment needs to be made in terms of the the Mayor's degree of impairment and distress. That is, unless people think that ever smoking crack means that a person is addicted. But we know this not to be true scientifically from research on reactions to drugs. According to Carl Hart, author of High Price (whose own research is with methamphetamines): “Eighty to 90 percent of people are not negatively affected by drugs, but in the scientific literature nearly 100 percent of the reports are negative."
Of course, we know that Mayor Ford is not good at controlling his intoxicant use, or his appetites. Ford has appeared inebriated in public, and he is quite overweight. So, should he be drummed out of office for those reasons?
Okay. No fat people can hold office? No one who has ever gotten drunk? Or become intoxicated with marijuana? Let's just say, actively policing such a policy would drastically limit the number of people who can hold a government position. And if we include in such a policy people on antidepressants, or powerful sleep medications, or pain killers, we're reduced to a quite narrow band of people. Such a ruling might affect women more, since now a quarter of American women in their 40s/50s are on an antidepressant.
So let's be clear what our case against the good mayor is: excessive behavior (including obesity and drunkenness), illegal activity, reliance on a drug, addiction, or he's just not the sort of person we want to be a mayor.
Then don't vote for him, Torontonians.
(Oh, the Mayor's poll rating, which wasn't too high, rose after the crack accusation was revealed.)
P.S. (November 5):
The other night, on Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, advanced thinker that he is, displayed not even a glimmer of comprehension of harm reduction in discussing the good Mayor. Reacting to the Mayor's vow that would no longer get drunk in public, but drink at home, Stewart mocked him for getting drunk at all, implying that his behavior proved he had a drinking problem/was an alcoholic, and disqualified him from being mayor of a large city. Who died and made Stewart the Church Lady? (Jon, ever hear of Winston Churchill?)
Follow Stanton on Twitter