The Mainstreaming of Marijuana

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April 27 2009 7:42 AM

The Mainstreaming of Marijuana

Six signs that pot is being legalized de facto, courtesy of articles published this month by the Washington Post and New York Times :

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William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

1) 13 states have legalized medical marijuana. ...

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2) [M]arijuana is now available as a medical treatment in California to almost anyone who tells a willing physician he would feel better if he smoked. Pot is now retailed over the counter in hundreds of storefronts across Los Angeles. ...

3) U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration will no longer raid such stores.

4) [G]overnment surveys show that 100 million Americans have smoked pot or its resin, hashish, in their lifetimes, and 25 million have done so in the past year.

5) [A]dmission of marijuana use by the Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was largely forgiven with a shrug .

6) [W]ith the recession prompting bulging budget deficits, some legislators in California and Massachusetts have gone further, suggesting that the drug could be legalized and taxed ...

[I]n California, pot is such a booming growth industry that lawmakers are being asked to consider its potential as a salve to the state's financial woes. Betty Yee, chairman of the California State Board of Equalization, endorsed a bill in February to regulate the estimated $14 billion marijuana market, citing the state's budget problems. California currently collects $18 million in sales taxes from marijuana dispensaries, and Yee said a regulated pot trade would bring in $1.3 billion.

Together, these developments convey the steady demise of the pot taboo. We don't really think marijuana use deserves prosecution. We're looking for ways to rationalize its legalization. One rationale is medical, and we don't seem to care much that this is largely a fraud. Another is financial: We know pot smoking is ubiquitous, so we might as well get some public revenue from it.

My guess is that criminal laws against marijuana use have become culturally untenable. At this point, if you want to maintain criminal laws against more dangerous drugs, you're better off conceding the legality of marijuana, lest the public lose respect for drug laws in general.

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