Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Weed vs. Marriage

I said over at PP yesterday that I think Democrats have a fight coming over marijuana, thanks to new polling that shows a majority currently favor legalization.

I compared the situation to marriage, and I see Joshua Tucker did, too; in many ways it's a natural comparison.

I do have one caution about it: I'm a lot less confident that it's a one-direction lasting trend than the marriage trend. This is basically just speculative, but for whatever it's worth...

I've always been fairly confident that the case against same-sex marriage would dissolve if and when it was enacted. The arguments against it often boiled down to "that's weird," and if and when it was enacted, it would rapidly no longer be weird. Sure, there's also some explicit bigotry, but for some time it was pretty clear that explicit bigotry was fading (and the process in which more gay and lesbian citizens come out, leading to less explicit bigotry, leading to more people coming out makes it likely that it will continue to fade). Ten years ago it wasn't at all clear to me that marriage equality would win, but I was very confident that if and where it won, public opinion against it would rapidly collapse.

But I don't think that support for weed legalization is similar. There does appear to be a generational effect, which suggests that the trend will continue to some extent. But it's not at all hard to imagine it reversing. As Mark Kleiman says, marijuana may be less harmful than alcohol, but that doesn't mean it's harmless -- and it's easy to imagine any number of weed-related problems that could make for bad headlines and reverse public opinions. I'm not predicting that, mind you; it's just that I think future trends depend on unpredictable events (or, to be more precise, unpredictable press interpretation of unpredictable events).

There's also a politician piece to that. Politicians "evolving" on marriage were only worried, really, about current opinion. I'm pretty sure they didn't worry about a backlash if marriage equality was enacted, and certainly not that if marriage equality took place that newspapers might start running gay marriage horror stories (has even the GOP-aligned press ever run gay marriage horror stories? What would they look like?).

But politicians will worry that if they support legalization that they could be held responsible for any weed horror stories that emerge -- and everyone knows that the press is capable for concocting those, true or not.

Supporters of legalization can argue that horror stories are not particularly likely to show up because (1) they're not apt to be true, and (2) given public opinion, the press won't find them appealing. That might be true! I'm only suggesting there's a lot more uncertainty here than one might think, especially if one believes in the marriage analogy.

46 comments:

  1. Not to mention there's got to be some middle group(s) that pushes lawmakers for policy change. There are some small groups that exist to push for legal marijuana, but it's nothing compared to the gay rights movement. And how could it be? One's an issue that people see as a fight for their human rights, the other is largely a matter of recreation.

    I think states that legalize it through referendum will serve as a test for politicians worried about the horror stories you mention. They'll also be able to make a good bit of money through tourism, perhaps leading marijuana decriminalization to be something like legalized gambling.

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    1. Are you suggesting that dope-smokers as a group might lack the dogged resolve and discipline to see this fight through to the end?

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    2. I guess I shouldn't be so glib in saying it's a matter of recreation- a LOT of people are in prison for breaking what's ultimately a pretty silly law. A commentator below talks about decriminalization vs legalization... it'd probably be smart for supporters to focus on the former.

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  2. I live in Colorado, which is in the middle of the whole fight over legal retail sales. I can't say we're in the middle of a backlash that could overturn the amendment to the state Constitution that legalizes retail sales, but I'm sure there's a healthy chunk of the pro-legalization voting block that's realizing they're getting more than they bargained for in terms of stores selling marijuana (and much less than they bargained for in terms of the projected tax revenue, which was supposed to go to schools. That's another long, wonky story in its own right.)

    I base this on personal anecdotes (not hard data), but ever since the amendment passed last year, the use of marijuana in public seems to have increased dramatically, and it's even annoying many pro-legalization voters I know who also are pot smokers. I've heard some variation of "When did Denver start smelling like pot all the time?" from at least a dozen people.

    I don't have a social science model to explain this, but the "pot industry" might be overplaying its hand, and unlike gay marriage, pot smokers can actually be "in your face," especially if you're walking around downtown Denver and Boulder. It's not impossible to see everyday annoyance with smokers combine with the dynamics of a moral panic to create some kind of a backlash. And don't overlook the difference between seeing a joyous gay couple in their 50s get married compared to the stoner smoking outside the restaurant you're walking into.

    I say this as someone who's almost completely in agreement with Mark Kleiman's decriminalization but not full legalization views. I think a growing majority believes no one should go to jail for smoking a joint on their porch or having a dime bag. That's a very different proposition than being able to buy it from stores that's next to grocery stores in strip malls.

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    1. the tl;dr version to my comment above: don't underestimate the power of people getting pissed off as we move farther away from reforming an injustice toward living with marijuana on an everyday basis.

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    2. Well, it's probably not that there's more folks smoking weed, but that folks are smoking the same weed more publicly. I support legalisation, but that stuff stinks.

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  3. Did any politicians back off of the 21st amendment after horror stories about drunks?

    I'm not a libertarian, in fact, I can't stand their glibness on most issues, but I do agree with them on matters of person freedom like smoking pot or gay marriage. The government has no business making weed illegal if booze isn't, and politicians, I think, are starting to sense this long-time progressive stance to get the Government out of our bedrooms, our parties, our gardens, our communications... Gay marriage and pot are just two issues under this larger umbrella of progressive freedoms that people are starting to discover the GOP wants to perpetuate. And as long as the GOP keeps saying they want smaller government, while they try to shove their government into women's private parts and our personal communications (70% of Democrats voted against renewal of the Patriot Act, only 14% of Republicans did), people will see them for the hypocrites they are and stop voting for them.

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    1. Did any politicians back off of the 21st amendment after horror stories about drunks?

      That's basically the discussion-ender. Marijuana is "harmless" in the sense of "unlikely to cause any harms unique to marijuana". If politicians didn't "pay" for the legalization of a substance that actually DOES cause unique social harms, they won't pay for marijuana legalization either.

      People who don't like marijuana aren't concerned about social harms anyway. They just either don't like the DFH's or are puritanical types who oppose fun. (Indeed, even the technocratic types like Kleiman seem to have a real suspicion of poor people taking risks to have fun, although they don't seem to care about rich people taking risks like skydiving to have fun.)

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  4. Fortunately, the liberals' anti-market hysteria means that their anti-morality can only go so far. If you decriminalize marijuana, it will be sold! Commercially! By corporations, man! And, as the silly anonymous above notes, liberals think it just won't do to sell it at strip malls - no doubt it's just too bourgeois. It's OK for young people to have a "dime bag" (whatever that is) just mysteriously appear, but as soon as the process becomes ordered, rational and profitable, the liberals will want to regulate it out of existence.

    This is, of course, why we see liberals trying to criminalize tobacco at the same time they try to legalize marijuana. I can only imagine how many millions of innocent lives they will ruin before they give up these foolish quests.

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    1. What the heck are you talking about? It's the conservatives who want to stop the legalization, or even the decriminalization, of weed. There might be one or two Republicans who agree, but that's it. If you want legal weed, you really should vote for progressive Democrats who've been on the right side of this issue for decades while the GOP went around spreading their Reefer Madness hysteria (just another form of hippie punching).

      Further, decriminalizing doesn't mean it will be sold. You have to legalize, like CO and WA, to do that. And the liberals who got those laws passed sure as heck aren't trying to regulate it out of business. In fact, it's the regulations in the law they passed that control just how it's going to be sold. Without those laws, it would still be illegal in those states. So, either you're a BSer, or you're really confused.

      And no one is trying to make tobacco illegal. We just don't like the fact that the tobacco companies get to cost shift their negative externalities (cancer, emphysema, etc) onto the rest of us. A pack of cigarettes should actually cost $25 or so, if we truly wanted to price the product based on what it costs us all.

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    2. Obviously your reading comprehension is flawed. Perhaps the following clarification will help:

      Drugs are bad, and should at the least be firmly discouraged, for public morality. I certainly don't want "legal weed," as you so noxiously put it. However, liberals don't care about morality, and want to legalize drugs. This is not because liberals actually care about individuals' freedom of action - they never saw an instance of the free market where they didn't scream "oppression" and "exploitation" - it's just because liberals like the kind of people who smoke marijuana (i.e. hippies). But liberals hate the kind of people who smoke, drink large fizzy drinks, etc (i.e. proles) so liberals don't care about their freedom of action.

      However - and this was the point of my post! - although liberals hate traditional morality and would like to undermine it through lax drug laws, they won't get very far. And the reason is that as much as liberals love hippies, they hate the free market. So although they love the idea of college students smoking marijuana, they hate the idea of a corporation selling them marijuana! So it's all a big joke, because as soon as these drugs get legalized, the supply gets choked by you typical nanny-staters. If you hippies want to smoke your filthy products, someone will have to produce and distribute them, and if anyone does it well, and earns a (gasp!) profit, then they suddenly become an agent of oppression and you try to regulate them out of existence. And then, no doubt, you'll complain that your drugs are too expensive! You're right, in a way, that it doesn't make sense, but I never said that the liberal wordview was coherent.

      You are quite wrong that no-one is trying to make tobacco illegal. It too is a filthy drug, but the regulations put upon smokers and the much-victimised cigarette companies are truly outrageous. There has been a long campaign to make life as difficult as possible for anyone who wants to smoke.

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    3. In the past I have tried out a little satire on this site. I'm not going to any more because your stuff is just so much better than mine. Well played, sir or madam, well played.

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    4. Yeah, if that's satire, it's amazing, if a bit incoherent and illogical.

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    5. Anon, you are way off on this. Liberal opposition to marijuana has more to do with traditional morality than opposition to markets. They have a bourgeois bohemian perspective, which tolerates difference (and in many cases, celebrates it) but views public smoking and intoxication as crude and irresponsible behavior. They want to live in a sanitary, well-ordered society in which one doesn't have to smell "hippies ... filthy products." You can see examples of this perspective in this very comment section. You have more in common with your political opponents than you think.

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    6. New Anon here.

      For liberal professional under the age of 50 or 40 (yuppies and have-been yuppies), it seems like the dawning consensus is de-criminalize but extensively regulate and constrain circulation and use in public space. Couves is right. There's much more of a split on whether it'd be desirable/legislatable for the marijuana "industry" to be only artisanal or also significantly corporate and "big." Libertarian, full-deregulation thinking finds much more support among leftists who consciously define themselves against liberal "establishment" positions.

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    7. "For liberal professional under the age of 50 or 40 (yuppies and have-been yuppies), it seems like the dawning consensus is de-criminalize but extensively regulate and constrain circulation and use"

      Exactly as I said - make it a bit legal, but then make it effectively illegal again! And then re-legalise! And then re-criminalise! And so on forever - but always condemning those who aren't in total agreement with your constantly shifting fads as evil baby-killers.

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    8. @ Anon 5:02 - What rot and conservative fantasy.

      First of all, only a person with a deranged view of markets would consider a regulated market probably a bit stricter than alcohol with restrictions on public smoking a bit stricter than tobacco to be "effectively illegal."

      Second, a revolving door wedge issue conspiracy theory? That's just completely nuts.

      As to agribusiness weed @ Anon 3:47, I don't smoke so I can't be sure, but it seems like a fair presumption that most liberals would probably be satisfied with labeling and letting the market work. It seems reasonable that there would be an existing consumer preference against Monsanto-bud, presuming that folks like them would even want in, between anti-marijuana folks getting mad and a-bit-stronger-than-alcohol regulations.

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  5. Well, you're really something...

    "Drugs are bad, and should at the least be firmly discouraged, for public morality"

    Hippy punching BS. All drugs are not the same. Pot is not as bad as booze. Are you suggesting we go back to alcohol prohibition too?

    "However, liberals don't care about morality, and want to legalize drugs."

    Unmitigated BS. Liberals, like me, were against the Iraq war and the economic policies that led to the Little Bush Depression. Can't get much more moral than that, and supporters of that war and the policies that led to the Little Bush Depression have no right preaching to anyone about morality.

    And not all liberals want to legalize weed. Yet.

    "never saw an instance of the free market where they didn't scream "oppression" and "exploitation""

    What a stinking pile. I'm a free market progressive who constantly complains about the market rigging upward redistributors who hate the free market, like Wall Street, or Walmart, or the Koch brothers, or the cigarette companies, all of whom cost shift their negative externalities onto the rest of us, which results in billions of subsidies going into the pockets of highly profitable corporations.

    The rest of your crap is hardly worth dealing with... Hippie punching assholes like you are rarely coherent. But note your disgust for weed, which doesn't cause cancer or any of the other expensive problems the rest of us get stuck with the cost of, while you contend that we're trying to make tobacco illegal, which we are not. And your argument for that we're trying to make tobacco illegal is that smokers are what? Forced to go outside so they don't give me cancer? Have to pay higher taxes that help pay for the costs to society? And outrageous regulations of "much-victimized" cigarette companies? Are you high? Big tobacco lied about the effects of smoking cigarettes for decades, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths, and you call them the victims?

    Please, keep talking, wingnut. It's people like you who are going to help get the Democrats back in charge of the House.

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    1. Look, hippies. I'm a hedge fund manager, not a pot-smoking trust-fund loser sponging off my parents at 40. I have no interest in having a dialogue with such creatures. This is simply an opportunity for me to educate you on the great promise of the free market, not that it will do any of you any good.

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    2. Incidentally, I, the anonymous who wrote the previous comments denigrating hippies, am not the same as the anonymous hedge fund manager above(although I approve of his sentiments).

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    3. You're both a bunch of bullshitting Fox News sock puppets. You want to punch this hippie, come on up and try it. I don't hide who I am.

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    4. You're obsessed with physical violence. This is what, the tenth time in this thread alone that you've referred to punching people or getting punched? I suggest you calm down. I note that wikipedia states that anxiety and paranoia are known side-effects of the drug you wish to legalise, so you're hardly the best advertisement for your noxious plant.

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    5. OH, please, hippie punching is an old term for what conservatives do on the drug issue and many others. The people obsessed with violence are the ones who voted for the man who lied us into a $6 trillion war that killed, maimed, and displaced millions. The people obsessed with violence are the punchers, not the punchees. I'm just sick of getting punched. So I suggest you try a better line of arguments, because you have now dropped every losing point you made in this conversation, and moved on to attacking me personally, complete with accusations that I'm smoking nature's pain reliever, something you have no clue about, but something you're more than happy to punish people for using, despite the fact that alcohol is much, much worse in terms of costs to society.

      So, go back to your bourbon, sock puppet, and watch your 1950's Reefer Madness world drift away from you as you slowly die and recede into the obscurity you so richly deserve.

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  6. I think this is something where politicians will be very slow to follow. "You gave my Little Jimmy a joint!" just plays worse in the press than "You gave my Little Jimmy a wedding cake with two grooms on the top!" I think the public is coming around, we'll probably see more state-by-state changes like Colorado and Washington, hopefully without the Feds getting too much involved (it'll be interesting to see how nominally Federalist folks react, but Federalism and anti-Federalism has been pretty selective on all sides since pretty much forever). My main hope from the Congressional/Presidential/SCOTUS level is that marijuana is reclassified from Schedule I to Schedule II, moving it out of the same "no possible beneficial use" category as LSD into the "highly controlled but with potential benefits" category with morphine and heroin.

    Meanwhile, grassroots *eyeroll* action will have to be out in front of the politicians. There's no reason that the legal restrictions on pot should be this much more restrictive than alcohol or tobacco.

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  7. Polling like this seems fairly useless. It may capture a vague trend, but it's not nearly specific enough to have any clear bearing on what actual policies might get sufficient popular support without an accompanying and more intense backlash. The poll asks "should the use of marijuana be legal?" That language of decriminalization/legalization can be interpreted narrowly (individual, non-commercial, implied limit on amount) or broadly if people jump immediately to other substances they put in association with marijuana, like tobacco and alcohol, and envision a reproduction of those substances relatively de-regulated circulation. But there's a world of difference between those two poles of the policy spectrum.

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    1. I guess I'm taking this as a given that this isn't really an issue for the politicians, and probably won't be for a few years. In which case, polling does matter depending on how states seek to change their laws (such as Colorado and Washington, but also in various medical marijuana states). I presume that pretty much everywhere there's been legalisation or decriminalisation in any form here in the US, it's been referendum-driven, and polling does seem to matter there.

      As to politicians and policies, it seems that the major choice folks have faced isn't whether to legalise, but what to do when someone else already has. To that end, I'd guess that "Should the Federal Government arrest people for use of Marijuana in places where the state has legalised it?" probably polls significantly more pro-pot than "should it be legal?"

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    2. Thanks, BitterFig, for these points. I just came across this post by Mark Kleinman, that does a much better and more thorough job of making considering these matter than I ever could:
      http://www.samefacts.com/2013/10/drug-policy/public-opinion-on-cannabis-is-it-game-over/

      He is also blessed with a very smart set of relatively ideologically diverse commenters.

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  8. Also, I'm thinking the GOP will merely further marginalize itself (at least during presidential years) if it goes all in on using an anachronistic rhetoric of denunciation focused on "hippies." For anyone under age 40, hippies are almost entirely an abstract and historical notion, since they didn't live through any of the 1960s and 1970s in a state of post-adolescent consciousness.

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  9. I don't think civil rights, in terms of 'right to smoke weed,' will drive ending pot prohibition. I don't think sales taxes on weed will drive it, either.

    But the costs of incarceration? If you want to bring your state budget under better control, that's a pretty tempting low-hanging fruit.

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    1. Personally, I don't think high-minded arguments *eyeroll* are really that vital. I think it's more that it just seems silly to folks that grass is illegal. No appeal to civil rights, just the thought that even if my stoner neighbor can sometimes be an idiot, he's not a criminal. Or that one friend drains a six on Saturday night, another smokes a bowlful, but we don't really see that as being different.

      I mean, charts and graphs and white papers about the numbers? That's not really going to convince anyone, roll them around. At best, it provides cover for folks who just don't want to admit it.

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    2. The war on drugs has resulted in several generations of black men being imprisoned at astoundingly high rates, for crimes that white people are just as guilty of. That seems like a pretty significant civil rights issue to me. But for people with power and influence in the Democratic party, gay marriage is just a much higher priority than drug policy reform.

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    3. @couves, I don't think that's true. I think there's a lot of talk in progressive circles about the problems of racism in our criminal justice system.

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    4. What form of decriminalization or legalization are the progressives who are concerned about hypocritical imprisonment of minorities for marijuana use coming around to a consensus on? They'd clearly want small personal use to not be a prison-worthy offense, but what about all the other ways in which marijuana is used, possessed, and fashioned as a consumption good? That's when the thornier questions appear.

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    5. I agree, zic. But there's a difference between talk and political action. The will is there, but it's just not a big priority among those with influence in the Democratic party.

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  10. I mostly agree with Jonathan on this, if for somewhat different reasons There's very little political incentive for politicians to address drug policy reform. Drug users don't reward politicians who support them, whereas the gay community does. This is largely because of the cultural reality -- even in progressive circles, it's still much more risky to be a known pot smoker than a homosexual. And sadly, keeping black men out of prison is just not a huge priority either.

    On the state level, you've got this odd situation where recreational pot use is de facto legal in places like California, but those who are growing marijuana in compliance with state law are still having their assets seized and in some cases their children and/or their freedom taken away -- all at the hands of an administration that promised to leave medical marijuana alone. But because it doesn't effect the average person, it's unlikely to ever be a major political issue.

    Things might be different in Colorado and Washington, where the public response to arbitrary federal enforcement might be -- "Hey, I thought it was legal, didn't we vote for this?" Even the feds seem to recognize that there will be a much trickier issue with enforcement in these states. A lot will depend on how things play out there.

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    1. "There's very little political incentive for politicians to address drug policy reform. Drug users don't reward politicians who support them, whereas the gay community does."

      Do you have some evidence of this? Because NORML's been in this game for a long time, and they have all kinds of evidence that you're wrong.

      Right off the top of my head, I'd say the 76 or so members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is now bigger than the tea party caucus, will tell you that they have a lot of voters for whom this is very important, including a lot of people stuck in states without medical marijuana laws who might just vote to skip that unnecessary step.

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    2. Addendum: It's not just drug users who want to end the drug war. If 58% of the public (which is a big acceleration in the trend) wants this, then it's going to get harder and harder to ignore it. Yet another issue where the demographics are going to just kill conservatives, while progressives will benefit.

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    3. Scott, people do support drug policy reform and they'll often vote for it when given the opportunity. But that doesn't mean it's a priority for them or the lawmakers who represent them. Hopefully the situation in Washington and Colorado (and possibly more states as well) will force the issue, because Federal policy is out of step with both the will of the people and the principles our country was founded on.

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    4. I agree with this. Support for legalisation, while broad, is probably fairly soft for a good many supporters. Comparing a recreational toker to a same-sex couple wanting to get married, there just isn't the same level of harm done by illegal marriage and weed. Most recreational smokers, awaiting legalisation, are probably fairly content to keep smoking illegally, where a couple unable to be married have a whole different set of tax issues, medical visitation issues, inheritance issues, and so forth. Sure, a smoker can be arrested, but most folks who smoke now have figured out ways to avoid that. This isn't to minimise the problem of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, but that doesn't seem like a problem as easily fixable as same-sex marriage.

      Which is the other major difference. Once marriage equality is attained and same sex marriage is legalised, that's pretty much it. Done. Only requires legislative action that isn't incredibly complex (difficult for some politicians, but it isn't like the tax code or the ACA), and doesn't really require major follow-up, by and large. We already know what marriage looks like, it just takes printing up some new forms. Legalised weed is a lot more complex. Will it have a three-tier system like alcohol? How do you manage the taxes? How do you regulate growers? How do you handle distribution and retailing? A full Federal legalisation bill would just be a headache, judging by state bills so far. Sure, there'd be a few things that would be easy like rescheduling the drug so that at very least it could be treated like opium in the medical community, but it's simply a legislatively more complex issue.

      Plus, like same-sex marriage, it's going to be a hard one. Support is wide, but opposition is probably pretty deep, and drugs are still a 'sexy' topic for the news. Add in that the slippery-slope is more logical here (that legal pot implies legal acid and legal heroin is going to be a lot easier to sell than legal same-sex marriage means legal dog marriage). Probably the middle-20% is sqishy and pragmatic enough to not demand that politicians go all-out to fight for this, not in the same way as legalising same-sex marriage. As long as folks are respectful of places which have legalised and aren't interfering, that's probably going to satisfy a lot of people.

      I just really don't see this as a strong anti-conservative wedge issue, and I don't see it getting there any time soon. I do think it's anti-liberal wedge potential is on the decline, however.

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    5. TBF, you make some great points about the practical and political problems of legalizing pot. But I don't think the lack of an influential pro-pot movement has anything to do with pot smoking being objectively less risky than living as a gay person. It's hard to compare the two, but think of it this way -- has any Congressman admitted to being a current pot smoker?

      I'd love to see an NRA for the rest of our civil liberties (yes there's the ACLU, but they do litigation more than lobbying and other political activities). The NRA manages to harness the broad political support for gun rights for substantial political gain. There is likewise broad support for other civil liberties that doesn't have a strong party or organization to mobilize that support.

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    6. What are you guys, old? You're wrong. Legalizing, or decriminalising, is THE most important issue for a very large segment of the youth vote.

      http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/marijuana-ballot-measures-youth-voter-turnout-2012-elections.html

      > If last month’s results are any indication, younger voters could play a key role in deciding future elections in states with marijuana ballot initiatives. Exit polls suggest voters ages 18 to 29 accounted for a noticeably greater share of voters than four years ago in Colorado, Oregon and Washington – all of which voted on marijuana measures. By contrast, this age group made up roughly the same percentage of the electorate nationally this year as it did in 2008.

      http://listverse.com/2013/10/08/top-10-stinky-facts-about-marijuana/

      > In Washington, Initiative 502 was passed in November 2012. It is credited with being the reason the state saw the highest voter turnout in the nation at 81 percent.

      I could go on, but apparently you guys are letting your cliches about lazy pot smokers influence your ability to see the truth, which is that it's not just about weed. It's about the whole drug war, which has adversely affected so many lives that I find it hard to believe it's not a bigger issue. People, especially the young and minorities are sick of getting busted for this. They're sick of being thrown in prison for this. They're sick of watching drunks kill people on the highways while they get demonized for smoking pot.

      Just like gay marriage is about a lot more than just letting gay people marry--it's the civil rights issue of our age--marijuana is the criminal justice issue of our age, and it's going to drive voter turnout for years to come.

      In fact, Democrats will probably start using it like the GOP used gay marriage. If I was a Republican running in a state that had any kind of pot initiative on the ballot, I'd be scared. And if I was a democrat who won because a lot of young people came out and voted for pot, I'd move it up my priorities list as a legislator.

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    7. Scott, that doesn't add up to a real movement. Talk to some of the politicians who are with us on this issue and they'll tell you -- they get almost no political benefit from it. The same can not be said for those who champion gay rights. You seem to think that this is about to change -- let's hope you're right!

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    8. I think it's more that I'm presuming everyone else is like me, which is a logical fallacy to be sure. In favor of legalisation, but it's just not an issue which is going to swing my vote. For example, I don't think many liberal pro-legalisation folks turned against Obama, despite his being a total hardass on medicinal use. Part of that is that Romney was a good deal worse, but I think it says something about priorities.

      That said, you're probably right about referendums. While I think individual politicians will keep fairly mum about it (from justified paranoia, imho), ballot measures will probably be a boon for Democrats. However, I really don't see a Democratic Presidential candidate trying to use legalisation or decriminalisation as tool in a debate--either primary or general. At most "The people of Colorado and Washington have spoken, I think we can trust them to be adults." I think even if Democrats win back the House and keep the Senate and Presidency in 2016, a legalisation or decriminalisation bill would be DOA in Congress, even if many of the same congresswomen hold personal hopes (and private ballot box votes) for CO/WA style bills in their home states.

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  11. This is an interesting conversation; wanted to add one critical difference between legalization of pot and same-sex marriage: we're just not sure, in a science or public policy sense, what our understanding of pot will be in a generation of two (while ssm's cultural trajectory seems fairly obvious by now).

    We know several important things about pot that speak favorably about it, such as THC's inability to affect respiration (making OD'ing on pot impossible), as well as the fact that many folks use the drug safely on regular occasions. There's also a lot the science doesn't know. For example, recent animal research seems to be uncovering a link between hyperactivity and a dangerous propensity to become addicted to THC. Many in the marijuana community swear by pot as a treatment for ADHD. Perhaps they should swear at it. We just don't know.

    Which, getting back to public policy, is a good reason politicians will hesitate on pot: its a gamble with very little upside for them, and tremendous potential downside (depending on how the science shakes out). You can't say the same thing about same-sex marriage, it seems to me.

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    1. As to a lack of good science, this is a big reason why marijuana needs to be rescheduled. Right now, the specifics of how it's illegal preclude a lot of research into the drug. By changing it from schedule 1 to schedule 2, this would allow research, but without full legalisation (for those who are still nervous).

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    2. To be fair, we don’t know for sure that gay marriage won’t harm our society in some way. But if we needed 100% certainty, we’d never change anything.

      Regarding marijuana, are you more comfortable with new pharmaceuticals that our government puts its stamp of approval on? Marijuana has been consumed by humans for thousands of years, but we don’t bat an eye when chemical compounds that were only just invented maybe 10 years ago are marketed to 300 million people.

      It’s impossible to know for sure, but I’m fairly certain that legalizing all drugs would be a net gain for society. But even if it weren’t, I think there’s a compelling moral case to be made against using the full force of government to destroy the lives of people who are engaged in activities that neither break my leg nor pick my pocket.

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