Consider this premise: For good or ill, the full legalization of marijuana in the United States for recreational purposes is inevitable.
How did we reach the point of inevitability? Gradually then suddenly. Colorado was the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, beginning on Jan. 1, 2014. Officials anticipated annual sales of $200 million and tax revenue of $70 million. By 2017, sales had reached $1.5 billion and Colorado’s Department of Revenue reported tax income of $250 million from pot sales.
Other states took note of the revenue, as well as the public will, and began to get on board. At present 18 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational weed. In 2020 national sales reached $20 billion.
And last week Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer joined Sens. Cory Booker and Ron Wyden in proposing legislation — the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act — that will decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Some of the revenue produced by the act will be funneled back into the communities that have been most negatively affected by the so-called war on drugs.
So the present trend is clear, and the outlook suggests inevitability, as well. According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 70 percent of all Americans support legalization. In the 18-29 age group, the level of support reaches nearly 80 percent.
Weed legalization finds less support among Republicans, but even there the figure hovers around 50 percent. Further, legalization embodies two elements that are attractive to two strains of Republicans: the ones that are fond of user tax revenue and the ones who profess libertarianism.
In short, it appears that Americans want pot to be legal, and it behooves both parties to take notice as they consider their political futures.
Of course, the inevitability of marijuana legalization does not mean that it’s a wise or healthy move. But at least it would resolve two thorny paradoxes that we’ve tolerated for decades:
The first is the pesky fact that marijuana is still illegal in most states, while alcohol and tobacco — at least as dangerous and probably more so — are not, a contradiction that seems impossible to rationalize.
The second paradox is the inconsistent consequences that we apply to marijuana offenders. A person of color can spend years in prison for dabbling in marijuana; celebrities such as Willie Nelson, Cheech and Chong, Woody Harrelson and Bill Maher have made pot smoking part of their public brand with no significant consequences. Weed legalization would resolve this glaring inequity.
So there’s considerable logic to support the legalization of marijuana. Still, it’s not a step we should take lightly. Indeed, I have misgivings.
I never consider this subject without thinking of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. In addition to his massive “War and Peace” and other grand novels, Tolstoy wrote a short essay in 1890 entitled “Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?”
To Tolstoy, “stupefaction” was any condition that interfered with the rigorous application of a person’s conscience. His answer was total abstinence from all stupefacients, especially wine, beer, spirits, narcotics and tobacco. And he wasn’t fond of other distractions from a focused moral purpose, such as “amusements” and “games.”
With our culture already awash in stupefacients, including an abundance of drugs, legal and illegal, as well as our all-consuming, addictive distractions of social media, video games, food, video and sports, Tolstoy might wonder why we want to legalize one more. It’s a good question.
On the other hand, few of humankind’s discoveries have caused more misery, ill health, disruption and violence than alcohol. Still, would we want to live all the time under the sober dictates of the severe, abstemious conscience that reigns in Tolstoy’s ideal world? Well, that’s another good question.
But both questions are moot. Americans don’t have much appetite for self-denying prohibitions, and we are unlikely to continue to deny ourselves the pleasures and perils of pot. Since legalization is probably inevitable, the answer is moderation.
Unfortunately, moderation isn’t our strong suit, either. Still, if alcohol, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers haven’t destroyed our country, marijuana is unlikely to do so, either.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC