Deciding to Support Pot Legalization

March 12, 2013 1:05 p.m.

I mentioned in this earlier post that I now support marijuana legalization. I’m not sure I’m the person anyone looks to on this issue. But I thought I’d share some of why I changed my mind — in part because it has something to do with gay marriage.

First a little background: I grew up around pot smokers. One pretty serious pot smoker, others more occasional ones. What I’d call one of my first and strongest experiences with pot was soon after my family moved to California in 1975 and seeing my parents lighting up in the bathroom and being terribly anxious they’d get caught and arrested. I was six or so and I’d seen pot smoking my whole life. But I think this was the first time I had a sense that it wasn’t legal to do it. We were also living in a totally white bread kind of place and I think I figured it might not be as friendly a community for it as the borderline ghetto we lived in St. Louis.

Fast forward: The first pot I smoked was from a stash my Dad had that he really had stopped using a long, long time before. My mom had died many years before at this point. The last time I took a hit of a joint was in college, so 25 years ago. My abstinence since then is because of some comical and personal reasons.

This is all to say that I haven’t used in a very long time but grew up with the stuff — in more ways than one.

Some of my opposition in the past has been what I would simply call my innate conservatism. Whatever people may think of my politics, I’m not really big on change. I’m instinctively conservative. A little more than two years ago I explained why I thought of myself as probably opposed to legalization — to a lot of reader unhappiness.

Among other things I mentioned this anecdote

I remember, many years ago, talking to my father about the idea of legalization. And bear in mind, my Dad, God bless him, smoked a decent amount of grass in his day, said he didn’t like the idea. One reason is that he was already a bit older by that time. But he had this very contradictory and hard to rationalize position which was that he was fine with people smoking pot but keeping it at least nominally illegal kept public usage in some check. Again, how to rationalize that in traditional civic terms? Not really sure. But frankly, I think I kind of agree.

As you can see I didn’t really have a strong or principled view — just basically opposed to a dramatic change. But, odd as it may sound, gay marriage probably had as much as anything to do with changing my mind.

A decade or two ago I didn’t support gay marriage. I was one of those civil union folks. It wasn’t that I had any personal objection to gays marrying as such and certainly no issue with gays in themselves. It just seemed like such an outlandish and politically implausible idea that it wasn’t something I supported.

I would suggest that it’s difficult for people under the age of 35 or 40 to grasp just how differently people saw this issue 15 or 20 years ago. But I’m not trying to make excuses. I think I’m simply of the political breed that what I think and my pragmatic sense of what’s possible are difficult to distinguish, often even in my own mind. This meant that I was against the various referenda trying to ban or preemptively outlaw gay marriage while also not being precisely for it either. Civil unions seemed sufficient to address the concrete issues at stake. What I didn’t grasp at the time was how the stigmatization of the LGBT community itself was at the heart of the issue.

But the rapid — not just rapid but mind-bogglingly rapid — rise in public support for gay marriage has made me realize just how quickly our society is changing (on a number of fronts) and made me think I need to learn to flex my own moral imagination a little aggressively.

So there it is: the drug war is a massively wasteful, society crushing exercise that has done as much as anything else to militarize law enforcement, puts millions of people behind bars and in so doing wrecks families and, even many criminologists now believe, criminalizes many people who might never have otherwise been so. I basically knew that a long time ago. Where pot has been legalized or de facto legalized I see no evidence its done anything but allow people to smoke pot, which basically they were already doing and basically with no harm other than whatever level of physical harm is tied to use of the drug itself.

So should pot be legalized? Regulated, yes, but legalized. I can see no good reason why it shouldn’t. And that’s why I changed my mind.

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