It’s tempting to draw parallels between the legalization of gay marriage and legalization of marijuana. A pollster is quoted in today’s Boston Globe (Marijuana advocates lay groundwork for legalization in Mass.) doing just that:
“Opinion is changing very quickly on marijuana,” said Steve Koczela, the president of the nonpartisan MassINC Polling Group. He said a number of 2013 national polls found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans favor legalization of the drug. The rapid change, he said, “mirrors, in some ways, the same-sex marriage shift that’s taken place over the last few years.”
And the parallels go beyond that. Decriminalization of marijuana as Massachusetts has done is akin to allowing civil unions. The next step: full legalization, is viewed as a natural evolution of tolerance.
But there are serious differences. Civil unions lead to gay marriage because the rest of the population has a chance to discover for themselves that gay couples are no threat to heterosexual families. Contrary to some irrational fears, children are not “recruited” into homosexuality just because acceptance of gays goes up and is enshrined in the law. Once gay couples are accepted and not feared, it becomes an equal rights issue –civil unions confer only partial rights and there’s no rationale to withhold full rights.
Time will tell, but I expect that experience with marijuana legalization will be different. Marijuana use is a health threat. Legalization does make underage use more acceptable, increasing harm. It becomes harder for parents to keep their kids from using pot.
It’s not inevitable that marijuana laws will become more and more lax. Cigarette smoking is becoming increasingly restricted and less culturally acceptable. The latest frontier is over smoking in public parks. Trans fats are being legislated out of use. New York City’s drive to limit soft drink sizes is not as crazy nor unpopular as it sounds. And beverages that mix alcohol and caffeine have been pushed from the market.
The abuse of prescription drugs is finally starting to get the notice it deserves. Parents are waking up to the fact that their kids –and if not them, their kids’ friends– are awfully interested in what’s in the drug cabinet, especially if that includes painkillers like Vicodin or Oxycodone. Something similar will happen with marijuana: barriers to its use will fall when the stigma of buying it from a dealer is removed and when its purity and freshness can be guaranteed by the retailer. I don’t want to see that happen in Massachusetts or elsewhere.
Having said that I do support decriminalization so people’s lives aren’t ruined by a marijuana possession conviction and so law enforcement loses the incentive to pursue property seizures.
By David E. Williams of the Health Business Group.January 13, 2014