10 Zen Monkeys has a fun list of five controversial moments in the life of William F. Buckley.
Buckley famously smoked marijuana – after sailing his boat outside the U.S. territorial limits, where it would no longer be illegal. Finally at the age of 78, Buckley wrote an editorial for the National Review decrying the war on pot.
"Legal practices should be informed by realities," Buckley argued, citing 700,000 pot arrests each year, 87% of which involved only possession of small amounts. "This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone."
But would America ever rise up and demand a change in marijuana laws?
It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children". The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.
Buckley's position was unexpected, but it offered an honorable example of his real commitment to intellectualism. He began his essay by writing that "Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great."
His son said Buckley died "with his boots on," according to BBC News – writing at his desk. "If he had been given a choice on how to depart this world," the National Review wrote, "I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas."