In 2014, with the successful pot-legalization push well underway in a handful of states, it looked like the public might be starting to have second thoughts: The Gallup tracker showed nationwide approval of legalization efforts fell sharply, from 58 to 51 percent. But in 2015, support ticked back up to 58, and now, according to a recently-released poll, a record three in five Americans support making the drug legally available for recreational use.As Gallup notes, marijuana legalization initiatives are on November ballots in five states. If the pro-pot forces sweep, the number Americans who can smoke a blunt without fear of prosecution will quintuple. Is it Gary Johnson’s world?
Not necessarily. First of all, the policy debate over marijuana doesn’t end with the declaration that the drug should be “legal.” There are many other questions, many of which will also be fraught and complex: How heavily should the drug be taxed? Should the state have a monopoly on its sale? If not, how will the state regulate corporate marketing? As we’ve noted, decriminalization of some kind may be the worst policy except all others. But regulations should be designed to keep prices high, discourage dependency, and block the emergence of a politically powerful marijuana industry. (Legislators would do well to read Mark Kleiman’s & co.’s prescriptions on this front).
Second, the fading of legal prohibitions on marijuana use may give rise to new social sanctions. For example, employers might drug test their employees, landlords might restrict the use of pot on their properties, courts might consider drug use as a criterion in child custody cases, and frequent toking might become a roadblock to enrolling in college or receiving government aid.
Americans seem to have made up their mind that you shouldn’t go to jail for smoking weed. But many other questions about how to manage the drug have yet to be answered conclusively, and likely won’t be for some time.