On marijuana legalization, Andrew Sullivan thinks my softly opposed position is “perfectly sane and balanced,” even though he doesn’t share it, but he’s startled that I don’t get how mainstream marijuana use is. He quotes Wikipedia:
A World Health Organization survey found that the United States is the world’s leading per capita marijuana consumer. The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use & Health prepared by the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services indicates that over 100 million U.S. citizens over the age of 12 have used marijuana. The 2008 survey found that 35 million Americans were willing to tell government representatives that they had used marijuana in the past year.
About one-third of all Americans say they’ve tried pot? Count me as one of them. When I was in college, I ate pot brownies twice. Was pleasant. Had space cake in Amsterdam, too. Never smoked the stuff, though I had plenty of opportunities, not because it was illegal, but because I hate smoking. As the father of a teenager, I would like to see the legal penalties for pot possession lowered, because I don’t think a kid should have his life ruined or even all that adversely affected if he gets busted, but I’m glad that society still maintains a line, however thin and weak, against marijuana’s mainstreaming.
Anyway, I want to talk about how mainstream pot use is. 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. I’m not so sure about that. I mean, we’re all living in bubbles. You may live in a bubble in which everybody accepts and partakes of pot use. That’s not my bubble. I think I know which of my good friends uses marijuana, though perhaps I would be surprised. I don’t really care, frankly. If they did in in front of me, I would say, “No thanks,” but that would be the end of it. For the most part, though, none of my friends do, and I would say that most of my friends don’t know anyone who does, or at least who admits to it. Again, I’m not saying that this is true for all of America, but I am suspicious of claims that us non-users of marijuana are out of the mainstream.
In fact, the Wikipedia entry Andrew uses to bolster his case makes the claim that just over 10 percent of Americans say they have used pot in the last year. That’s mainstream? Really? If one-third of all Americans say they’ve ever used pot — a number that includes brownie-munching undergraduate me — what does that really prove? Lots of people experiment with drugs of some sort or another in high school and college, but leave it behind.
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.”