How Mainstream Is Pot?

noted that roughly ten percent of Americans admit to using marijuana in the last year and approximately a third of Americans admit to having tried it at some point. Dreher is underwhelmed by these numbers:

I have no doubt marijuana use is far more ubiquitous in cultural-liberal circles (which includes libertarians) than it is among cultural conservatives, and I also would point out that the kind of people who work in media (news and entertainment) are far more likely to be cultural liberals. This stands to distort their view of what’s mainstream and normative, as we’ve seen on other issues (e.g., religion and politics). I’m skeptical that marijuana is as accepted by the mainstream as legalization proponents say it is. I could be wrong, but this seems to me along the lines of the apocryphal epistemic-closure statement attributed to Pauline Kael, which could be restated: “I don’t know why marijuana remains illegal; I don’t know a single person who doesn’t smoke pot.”

Actually, I think Rod is the Pauline Kael in this respect. His own readers – who surely skew toward the culturally conservative – agree with me: “When we talked about this before on the blog, a number of you said I’m living in a bubble, that pot use is everywhere.” But one thing that unites red and blue America is their pot. CBS did a survey of states where cannabis is most used. In ascending order, the 18 states with the highest pot use are: Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, Connecticut, New York, Washington, California, Maine, DC, Rhode Island, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Colorado, Vermont, and Alaska. Yes: Alaska is the biggest stoner state in the nation! And they are not miles apart: 11.9 percent of Delaware residents smoke pot, while 16.3 percent of Alaskans do. Among the states with decriminalized or medical marijuana laws are Montana, Alaska, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Arizona. I never thought of Mississippi and Nebraska as bastions of cultural elites. Does Willie Nelson strike you as a cultural liberal elitist? And you simply cannot get 50 percent support for legalization without widespread national awareness of pot use. May I recommend to Rod a quick perusal of the Dish’s little book, “The Cannabis Closet“, to see the full range of regional and cultural acceptance of marijuana.

Frum, on the other hand, fears that marijuana is becoming more and more mainstream:

I do not think marijuana is America’s #1 public health problem. That bad distinction goes to firearms – access to which I am also in favor of restricting and tightening. I don’t claim that marijuana is even the #1 drug problem. Tobacco is more deadly, alcohol blights more lives.

But here’s where marijuana is different from other drugs. With every other drug, attitudes today are less permissive today than they were a generation ago. Public opinion is tougher on booze, tougher on pills, tougher on tobacco. With marijuana, and marijuana alone, we are moving in the wrong direction: toward more acceptance, and even more promotion.

With every social problem, we start from where we are. We already have a tobacco industry. Over the past 15 years, that industry’s troubling marketing practices have been exposed. The question for today is: shall we create another such industry to market marijuana?

But has it occurred to David that the reason disapproval of other drugs has gone up and disapproval of marijuana has gone down is because people understand the difference. They know from their own experience that marijuana is harmless, compared with other legal drugs like alcohol, and certainly harmless compared with prescription drugs (20,000 deaths a year) or other street drugs. You can’t overdose on it; and it doesn’t lead to anti-social behavior, as long as you don’t count snoozing as anti-social. Meanwhile, arrests for marijuana have sky-rocketed in recent years, to 800,000. When social tolerance for something increases based on reality, and the government reacts by intensifying enforcement, you have what can only be called Prohibition. It was insane with alcohol; it is even more insane with marijuana.

What David is fighting is a social change based on empirical reality. Which is why I believe his position on this is not a conservative, but authoritarian and even liberal in its condescension toward the decisions of ordinary people living their own lives. He needs to trust the American people more.  I think of the marriage movement. Once people realized the fact that gay people are just like them, with the same emotional and psychological needs and family backgrounds, they saw no reason to deny them full inclusion in marriage. Similarly, once a critical number of sane adults understand that pot-use is of trivial concern, minimal harm and considerable pleasure, they have rightly placed it in a different category than, say cocaine or meth. Meanwhile, the government remains in la-la land.

So here’s a question for David: do you believe the government should alter its Schedule 1 classification of cannabis as having no medical use at all and in the same class as heroin? David is a believer in empiricism and rational public policy. Does he believe that pot has “no currently accepted medical use”? Does he believe that there is “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision”?

If you want a sane drug policy, you cannot have a literally insane government classification of cannabis. And it is insane, David, isn’t it?