By Vincent Carroll at The Denver Post
Is the evolving science of brain development going to be the latest excuse for attempting to deprive some Americans of their personal freedom and even constitutional rights?
Apparently so. It was stunning enough when a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights made a case this summer for censorship of college students because of unfinished brain development, but now another example of this attitude has surfaced, and closer to home. A policy brief from the Centennial Institute, in Lakewood, argues that since “the brain isn’t fully developed until about the age of 25,” “we should raise the minimum age for use of marijuana and other legal, addictive drugs.”
According to the author of the brief, Dr. Christian Thurstone of Denver Health, “The legal ages of 18 [for medical marijuana] and 21 [for recreational pot] still mean the brain isn’t fully mature and is especially vulnerable to addiction.”
Thurstone doesn’t spell out what he’d raise the age to — or whether he’d simply hike the threshold for medical marijuana to 21. But he clearly believes 21 is too young to be given full adult freedom with drugs, and explicitly advocates raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes to “21 — if not higher” (my emphasis).
Thurstone would find a kindred spirit in Michael Yaki of the Civil Rights Commission. A former senior adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Yaki was questioning a free-speech advocate in July when he seized the opportunity to explain that he felt there were “very good and compelling reasons” to prohibit certain types of speech on college campuses that would be allowed elsewhere in the adult world. The main reason he cited: Young adults “don’t process [information] in the same way that we do when we’re in our late 20s and 30s.”
Yaki seems to believe that the First Amendment could fully kick in perhaps at 21, no doubt so colleges could impose the types of speech codes that courts have found unconstitutional but which academic officials persist in trying to sneak in by the back door.
Testifying at the time before the Civil Rights Commission was Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who offered a brisk rebuttal.
“You run into a couple moral and philosophical problems with that,” he noted. “One of them is the moral and philosophical underpinnings of the 26th Amendment,” which allows 18-year-olds to vote, not to mention that “we also send our 18-year-olds to war.”
Lukianoff later framed the retort more forcefully: “Unless we are willing to rethink 40 years of constitutional law, repeal the 26th amendment, and tell the 40 percent of our military that is 24 or below that it has to come home, the infantilization of college students must stop.”
This is not to dispute the research on brain development, or to deny that young adults may be more impulsive and lacking in emotional maturity — and let’s emphasize the words “may be.” But if we’re going to treat them as less than adults in terms of their First Amendment rights in college and in access to intoxicants, shouldn’t they get a break on criminal charges into their early 20s, too?
Where would it all end?
We already make an exception to the general rule that adulthood begins at 18 with our drinking and recreational pot laws. The last thing we should do is extend the length of that exception — or start to create one for free speech, too.