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Medical Marijuana – The Road to Legalization

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Medical marijuana neon sign at a dispensary on...


I’m of the school of libertarianism that finds laws banning pot not only ridiculous, but immoral.  Our imprisonment rates are like those under Stalin in Russia, and it has led to the deaths of thousands (if you consider more than 80% of the drugs smuggled over the Mexican border is pot).  Still, it’s not going to happen, at least not yet.

Aside from the confirmation received in, let’s say the greenest state, California when they voted down a proposition to legalize pot, polling shows it.  Aside from a few outliers, most polling over the past decade has reflected about a 40-55 split against legalization.  About 40% believe in the obviously discredited story of pot being a “gateway drug”.  43% think pot is worse than alcohol (not true) and 87% think pot is at least as bad as alcohol (also not true).  Only 22% of seniors support legalization, and the only age demographic where a majority supports legalization is the 18-29 demo (big surprise there).  Fewer than 1/4 Republicans supports legalization and less than half of Democrats do.  In short, not gonna happen, at least not yet.

For years different tricks have been attempted to shift the debate.  The “legalize and tax” argument didn’t work.  The “it’s by far the biggest cash crop in the United States, so it would be huge for the economy” argument didn’t work.  The “thousands of college students die every year of alcohol poisoning while it’s physically impossible to OD on pot” argument didn’t work.  And when you consider the polling above, it’s not particularly surprising.

There is one area where the door is slightly cracked open.  Between 70 and 80% consistently support medical marijuana.  About the same amount think that marijuana has genuine medical benefits.

This needs to be the issue.  It can’t be about college students or drug dealers or burned out stoners who are sick of the man harshing their buzz.  It has to be about cancer patients who are suffering at the hands of idiot puritanical bureaucrats who are blinded by puritanical idiocy.

There is room for movement on the fringes.  Nationally people break evenly on whether the cost of enforcement is too high or acceptable, and it’s safe to assume that these people aren’t evenly distributed nationwide.  This means there are going to be lots of places where pot can be “decriminalized” (although that term is horrible from a framing perspective), meaning the penalty becomes similar to that of a speeding ticket.  About 1/3 think pot would help the economy vs. 1/5 who think it would make it worse, which means it’s an argument worth making when talking to open-minded skeptics.

In terms of organized political action though, you all need to deal with the fact that it’s going to be a while before pot is legal, and focus on legalizing medical marijuana everywhere.  And when you do it, it’s never about pot, it’s never about the people opposing out.  It has to always be about the people who are suffering from horrible, painful and terminal diseases because pot’s not legal.  They are the only pot users who are currently sympathetic, and so it all has to be about them.

Once it’s legal medically, the baseline will shift.  People will become more comfortable with cutting penalties.  People will become comfortable with making legalization a local issue, provided their locality keeps it illegal.  Once an effective, accurate roadside test is developed to bust stoned drivers, people will eventually come around to legalization.

As it is now there are 15 states and Washington DC where medical marijuana is legal.  Out of those 16, 10 made it legal by ballot initiative.  Out of those 10, there was only one state where the vote was close (Arizona), everywhere else it passed with a range from 54% to 65%.  This stands to reason, as politicians are going to be far more loathe to admit to being pro-drug in any way, shape or form than people who don’t have to live in that kind of spotlight.

So right now, if you’re for legalization in any way, you need to work towards getting a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana.  And if/when the issue is political, never forget, it’s all about the sympathetic figures.


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