The Simmering Pot Movement

Seems hardly an election cycle passes without several marijuana initiatives on the ballot. This season’s players are Washington, Alaska and the District of Columbia. The states would allow for retail pot shops, like those recently established by law in Colorado. D.C.’s ballot measure would merely legalize possession. And for what it’s worth, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley recently announced he would himself vote for the Oregon ballot measure – to become the first US senator to ever support marijuana legalization.

The tide for pot legalization is rising nearly as fast as that for gay marriage – and, reassuringly, it doesnt depend on the learned liberalism of federal judges; it is rather the consequence of its popularity in an increasingly liberal electorate. Medical marijuana is now legal under state law in nearly half the states, and possession has been decriminalized in about one-third of all states.

Opposition to marijuana legalization is as lovely a dunce cap as a conservative ever wore. People who claim to fear government power, and who eschew a state’s paternalism toward its adult citizens, should arrive easily to the policy position of marijuana legalization. Not so for conservatives, whose fear of government power is somehow not triggered by the American gulag system, which has given the US the highest incarceration rate in the world, driven significantly by drug prohibition. Conservative esteem for “personal responsibility” is somehow inapplicable to the idea of letting adults decide what’s best for their minds and bodies. One hears conservatives babble about the need to “protect society” from the scourge of individual drug use, and wonders why they dont have a similar desire to protect society from individual decisions to go without health insurance, acquire firearms, or not save for retirement.

Conservatism, after all, is defined by its lack of principles. Compared to real political philosophies, such as liberalism, conservatism is ten pounds of crap crammed into a five-pound bag, thrown together by historical accident, and bound together by the perspicacious philosophical insight that everything was better in the old days. Except for slavery, women’s subjugation, Jim Crow, witch burnings, the Japanese internment, the eugenics movement and the McCarthy hearings, America’s past is a veritable touchstone of enduring values and right-mindedness – ah, the good ol’ days….

One day – hopefully soon – people who come out opposed to slam-dunk liberal policies like gay marriage and marijuana legalization will sound as loony as advocates for slavery and the repeal of women’s right to vote – policy positions so extreme that they have become publicly unspeakable, relegated to extremist movements like the Taliban or white supremacists. This is why elements within American conservatism are branded as the “American Taliban”: they espouse policies as comparably baseless, venal and backwards. Opposition to science – whether on the subject of evolution, global warming, or the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis – is indistinguishable from opposition to rationality itself. And once untethered from reality, human belief systems are free to wander among the fields and streams of mythology, leaving infinitely every viewpoint as valid as any other.






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