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May 28, 2013

"How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marijuana"

StrangeloveThe title of this post is not only an homage to one of the greatest movies of all time, but also the headline of this new Time magazine piece by reporter Christopher Matthews.  (Among other enjoyable aspects of starting to think about Dr. Strangelove in this context, I wonder if the good doctor might well have been better able to deal with his alien hand syndrome problems with the help of high quality medical marijuana.)  Though I suspect some Americans may now still fear marijuana reform as much as they once feared "The Bomb," here are excerpts from the Time piece explaining why many have stopped worrying so much about the wicked weed:

For nearly a century, the United States has been one of the fiercest advocates and practitioners of marijuana prohibition in the world.  At the height of the America’s anti-pot fervor in the 1950s and ’60s, one could even receive life imprisonment for simple possession of the drug.

But the puritanical fervor that once dominated the national discussion surrounding cannabis has been conspicuously absent of late.  Earlier this month, the Colorado State legislature, by order of a November referendum, passed bills to implement the legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana use.  Washington State voters also approved legalization by referendum on election day....  The Organization for American States recently suggested that marijuana legalization could be a way to cut down on drug-violence in the western hemisphere.  Perhaps most important, the movement has finally found a voice on Capitol Hill, as representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis submitted legislation earlier this year that would end federal prohibition of the drug, and allow states to tax and regulate it as they see fit....

Indeed, the feeling that the further liberalization of marijuana laws is inevitable is backed up by the polling trends.  According to Gallup, as recently as 2005, two-thirds of Americans opposed legalization of marijuana.  Now 48% percent of the population supports it.  And a similar poll from Pew puts the number even higher — at 52%. But what exactly explains this sudden change in American attitudes towards pot?

Undoubtedly, part of the reason for the increased acceptance is demographic.  It might make you feel old to read this, but on Friday, both Bob Dylan and Tommy Chong celebrated birthdays, turning 72 and 74 respectively.  The aging of these counterculture icons hasn’t directly changed American attitudes towards marijuana, of course, but it does underscore the fact that the vast majority of Americans living today came of age during a time when marijuana was widely in use....

And while national political leaders aren’t necessarily falling over themselves to endorse marijuana legalization, there isn’t a lot of room in the current political climate to defend it, either.  The political right has done an excellent job over the past thirty years convincing the American public of the limitations of government.  They have argued that even when the government has the best of intentions it can be astoundingly ineffective at achieving its stated goals, and often creates unintended and pernicious consequences to boot.  This is the same argument that has led to deregulation of industry, historically low tax rates, and legislative efforts like welfare reform.  It’s only logical to extend it beyond social welfare programs to something like drug policy.

And supporters of ending marijuana prohibition do indeed point to the unintended consequences of the policy as reason to legalize.  According to the FBI, in 2011, 1.5 million people were arrested on drug charges, and roughly half of those were for marijuana, costing billions per year in law enforcement and court costs.  And that doesn’t count the human toll on those arrested, like potential loss of work, government benefits, the right to vote, and student aid.  Meanwhile, the government simply hasn’t come anywhere close to achieving the stated goal of marijuana prohibition, which is to prevent drug addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, since the beginning of the so-called war on drugs, the addiction rate in America has remained steady at 1.3%, despite the fact that each year state and local governments spend more and more money — over $1 trillion in total — fighting the drug war.

What’s more, the unintended consequences of marijuana prohibition do not stop at our borders.  In fact, the brunt of the side effects may be being felt in places like Mexico....

We are in a political moment where social conservatism has been somewhat sidelined as a political force by the growing influence of libertarianism in the Republican party.  This dynamic emphasizes the tension between liberty and morality that has been with us since the founding of our country, and at this moment liberty appears to be ascendant.  But make no mistake, the puritanical impulses that once made America the leading voice in marijuana prohibition haven’t gone anywhere — and advocates of reform should know that pendulums, once set it motion, swing back again.

A few recent and older related posts: 

May 28, 2013 at 07:40 AM | Permalink


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My goodness, how the packaging does change depending on whether the product is a liberal favorite, or a liberal boogeyman.

According to Gallup's most recent poll on the subject, support for legalizing pot is at 48% (down very slightly from the previous Gallup poll -- http://www.gallup.com/poll/159152/americans-federal-gov-state-marijuana-laws.aspx), while support for keeping the death penalty is a much larger at 63% (up very slightly from the previous poll -- http://www.gallup.com/poll/159770/death-penalty-support-stable.aspx). Therefore, shouldn't we see a post here with the following title:

"How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Death Penalty"

Ummm, yeah, I guess not.

The spin here is wonderful to behold. When support for a generally conservative cause (the death penalty) is over 60% and stable or maybe slightly rising, the headline tends to be, "New Study Raises Serious Questions About Death Penalty." But when support for a generally liberal cause (pot legalization) is at about 50% and maybe slightly falling, the headline is, "How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marijuana."

Ah, you say, but among the youngest demographic, support for pot EXCEEDS support for the death penalty!!!

Wrongo. Look at the polls cited. Younger people support pot by 60% in favor and 39% opposed, while they support the death penalty by 61% in favor and 35% opposed.

Sorry there. The younger crowd's support for the death penalty is GREATER than its support for pot.

So would the liberals here like to go over once more what's the much-vaunted "wave of the future?"

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 28, 2013 9:00:35 AM

Despite valid points in this obtuse article, one finds slow-going through the double-cream progressive bias of the author, e.g.

--> "the puritanical fervor that once dominated the national discussion"
--> "the United States has been one of the fiercest advocates and practitioners of marijuana prohibition in the world"
--> "anti-pot fervor...one could even receive life imprisonment for simple possession"

--> "the unintended consequences of marijuana prohibition do not stop at our borders. In fact, the brunt of the side effects
may be being felt in places like Mexico"
--> "the tension between liberty and morality...and at this moment liberty [to smoke marijuana] appears to be ascendant"
--> "the puritanical impulses...haven’t gone anywhere"

Some of Mathews's previous articles at Time:
[Keep carrying water for the President, Time!]

May 15, '13: "The Mystery of the Incredible Shrinking Budget Deficit...[For] The Obama Administration...some pretty good news"
May 10, '13: "Made-Up Numbers Dominating the Immigration Debate...[by the conservatve] Heritage Foundation"
May 1, '13: "Austerity Strikes Back: Budget Hawks Regroup After the Reinhart/Rogoff Affair...[though convervatives are] telling
us of the the economic doom...if [America] doesn't reign in its debt...there's been scant evidence"

Posted by: Adamakis | May 28, 2013 9:31:30 AM

Regardless of the packaging or the spin of the article, it does look as if marijuana use is becoming more accepted. Legalization of marijuana is a main stream topic and it does not provoke a lot of controversy. This is observed on both sides of the political spectrum.

Posted by: beth | May 28, 2013 1:29:10 PM

beth --

If legalization of pot "does not provoke a lot of controversy," then the death penalty should provoke even less, since it enjoys a clear and sustained majority, unlike legalized pot.

Somehow, though, I think we'll continue to see plenty of controversy, on this blog and elsewhere, about both.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 28, 2013 2:52:42 PM

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