How we legalize marijuana, Part 6: Final observations

This is the 6th and final part of my series on the proposed Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (“the Act”) that will likely reach the California ballot in November 2016. The series started here. Thank you for reading.

Final observations: the world the Act brings us closer to.

At the bottom of it all, whatever else it does, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act would prevent a great deal of needless suffering: fewer people in jail or hampered by past convictions and able to do more with their lives; more resources to pay for social priorities; more ability for law enforcement to focus on crimes with victims.

What about culturally? Governor Brown associates marijuana with idleness: “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?” (direct quote). But non-septuagenarians tend to realize that while marijuana may have that pitfall, it’s compatible with a wide range of lifestyles, its effects more about the person than the plant: just look at the suburban Colorado stoned Bible study group to see what can evolve when a drug starts to lose its ties to counterculture.

Brown’s offhand comments are much like David Brooks’s column when he openly recollected how his own youthful use had no particular long-term harm but still agonized about the unseemliness of declining to lock people up for it – in principle for people like him, in practice for people of different race, ethnicity, or class. In both cases, a vague disapproval or sneer is enough to shut off critical thinking; effectively, for many in power it is still about taboo, or respectability, rather than public policy. It will be a great step forward if we get over this muddled way of thinking and start weighing options thoughtfully and empathetically, trying new approaches, accepting not everything will be perfect, and modifying them over time based on what happens. Yes – marijuana could become more part of the culture at large as a result of the Act, more part of the mainstream. But fear of that outcome is not a sufficient reason to prop up the unjust status quo. And there are plenty of much more effective, less destructive ways to tamp down on marijuana use if it does rise as a social problem post-legalization.

This vote will have consequences far beyond California. We would be the biggest state to date to legalize, likely creating a bandwagon effect for other states and even other countries, as Canada and Mexico are also considering legalization now. (In just a few years, there could be legalization from Acapulco all the way up the coast to Nome.) And with a tentative federal truce with states going the full legalization route recently struck, the federal government following suit no longer seems as ridiculous or far-off as it once did.

What would this change mean for policies on other drugs? Opiates, methamphetamines, and so on tend to pose more health and abuse risks, so policy there is not automatically going to follow suit – I could even imagine criminalization remaining static as marijuana joins the list of legal substances. But it is still the case that criminalization is a failed policy across the board, and hopefully marijuana legalization will slowly pave the way for a framework for other drugs that focuses on easy availability of comprehensive treatment – assistance without jailing – though without necessarily having a full-on commercial market. (Also, read about Rat Park; substance use problems are about much more than the inherent qualities of the substances themselves.)

You may hear rather shrill criticism of the Act from some. There are elements of the legalization movement that seem to regard anything short of complete libertarian freedom to grow, indoors and outdoors, as worse than nothing, and see a regulated commercial system as an utter dystopia. I hope I’ve cleared up in these posts some of the misconceptions floating around, and why the Act is worth supporting despite its big-business leanings. If there were major dissension among the legalization movement, especially a potential competing measure, that would hurt the chances of the Act, but from what I can tell most big players seem to be flocking to this one, which is good.

So: sign the petition if you can (I’m looking out for when it becomes available), vote yes in November, and then be ready to demand more and better policy to complete the goals the Act sets out on. 

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