I have a rule of thumb that favorability ratings need to reach about 65 percent before you hit a tipping point where a major social change starts getting codified into law nationwide. There’s nothing magic about this threshold. It’s just a general sense based on previous issues similar to this.
And as you can see, public opinion isn’t merely rising on marijuana legalization, it’s accelerating. The rate of increase has gone from about 0.5 points per year in the 90s to 1.5 points in the aughts to 4 points so far in the teens. If this keeps up, we’ll pass the 65 percent threshold by 2016 or so.
Mark Kleiman agrees that, unless the polling trend reverses, that federal legalization will happen in the near future:
If the question of whether to legalize now seems largely settled, that makes the much-less-debated question of how to legalize even more topical. Some of the smarter opponents of cannabis have figured this out, and are now looking for ways of limiting the increase in drug abuse likely to follow legal availability. However, career and ideological interests and group ties are likely to lead the majority of the active drug warriors to keep fighting what now seems like an unwinnable battle, telling one another that legalization is sure to be such a disaster that the public will demand re-prohibition. By doing so, the warriors will help to ensure that the legal system that eventually arises will be over-commercialized, under-regulated, and under-taxed.
This would simply repeat the mistake they made in opposing the medical use of cannabis. While the warriors kept chanting “Cheech and Chong medicine,” the pot advocates rolled right over them.
Mark also takes me to task for downplaying marijuana’s downsides:
Andrew Sullivan strikes a triumphal note. Hard to fault him for that. But goddammit, “less harmful than alcohol” and “not harmful to most of its users” do not add up to “harmless.” Adolescents spin out on cannabis and wreck their academic careers. People of all ages do stupid things while stoned, including driving their cars into trees and other cars. Cannabis now follows only alcohol as the primary drug of abuse reported by people voluntarily entering drug treatment.
Why take the perfectly reasonable case that cannabis should not be illegal and ruin it with the silly claim that the stuff is harmless?
Well, I was perhaps a bit too giddy last night to avoid stupid, simplistic adjectives. In The Cannabis Closet and this blog, we’ve long aired the harms that can attach to the plant. I think it should be kept from teenagers the same way we restrict alcohol (perhaps more so). What I was getting at is that there is no fatal overdose for marijuana – unlike alcohol and so many other drugs; and that almost everything is harmful in certain contexts and degrees: driving sober, for example; or skiing; or sex; or porn. My point is that in this broader context, pot is pretty harmless as these things go. But nuance eluded me last night, for which I apologize.