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Marijuana legalization and the popular vote

Washington Hemp Day celebration promoting the legalization of marijuana.
Washington Hemp Day celebration promoting the legalization of marijuana.
Photo by Meg Roussos/Getty Images

For decades, support for legalization of marijuana has been rising. Advocates see it as one of those things that is inevitable, that ultimately everyone will feel the same way about marijuana as we feel about alcohol--which is to say that some small minority will think it one of the evils of society and some will destroy their lives with it, but most will treat it as a recreational option, a benefit of chemistry, a way to relax. Last year support passed fifty percent; it was expected to continue to rise.

The surprise is that it did not; in fact, it fell back below fifty percent, such that the majority which marginally favored legalization now once again marginally opposes it.

What is particularly interesting, though, is that there was a significant drop in favor in Colorado in the wake of its legalization. People in Colorado who supported legalization now think they made a mistake. There are problems; there are problems no one foresaw.

I have long held a conservative attitude--I do not mean that I hold to conservative political policies per se, but rather that I have long opposed change for its own sake. Not everything that is needs to be changed; not everything "progressive" is better than what we have and do now. We are deceived by our own language--we use words like "progress", "advance", and "moving forward" when what we really mean is changing, moving away from what is. If we stop to consider it, making random changes in our laws and our societal structures is a bad idea, because entirely random changes are as likely--or probably more likely--to make things worse as to make them better. We do not make random changes, of course. We make changes we believe will be improvements. Yet we make them without much consideration of where it will lead, of how it will impact our future. Our definition of "improvements" is intentionally nebulous; it simply means that some of us expect to prefer the new version of the world, that some who are unhappy with the way things are would change the world, not to anything else, but to that which personally pleases them more. We ignore the butterfly effect possibilities, expecting that because this is something we want in our society the outcome will of necessity be entirely good.

I do not favor legalization of marijuana, and the argument that it is not worse than alcohol fails with me on two levels--one, that it is not entirely clear that it is not worse than alcohol, and two, that our problems from alcohol are already far worse than we should allow. The fact that we cannot eliminate the problems created by alcohol overconsumption in this country is hardly a good reason to complicate things with the legalization of marijuana and the additional problems which will be connected to it. I am not, however, adamantly against it. In fact, I think it's probably good that Colorado has legalized marijuana--not, perhaps, for Colorado, but for the rest of us, so we can see what happens when marijuana is legal. It remains to be seen how they deal with their new problems, and whether the rest of us conclude that this is a good idea or a big mistake or, more likely, a mix of benefits and problems to be weighed in deciding our futures in the other states.