The great debate in American society concerns those who support civil society and those who are against it. The discussion is often focused on what is meant by civil society, as Americans often seek self-interest by aligning their interests and values with some notion of public good, traditional values and a general, if not specific, appeal to patriotism.
The controversy over marijuana use in contemporary society dates back to the 1960s—particularly to opposition to the Vietnam War, advocacy of civil rights for all Americans and a general assertion of greater freedom regarding individual social conduct. Marijuana use was associated with rebellion, and many cannabis users fully embraced and celebrated their enrollment in what became known as the counter culture.
In the formative years of the 1960s and 1970s, marijuana use and advocacy of marijuana’s legalization was seen as part of a social revolution, a revolution that the established social classes and community leaders were determined to not only resist but defeat. Anyone who was for marijuana, thus, was against civil society.
Not. Any. More.
Americans in favor of marijuana’s legalization are on the side of civil society, on the side of the rule of law and effective public policy. They are advocates of the public good and traditional values and patriots in good standing with respect to our nation’s best interests and well-being.
There are those who would disagree with that assertion, primarily those who oppose marijuana’s legalization, and this is certainly the subject of much ongoing debate. But stop for a second, and consider two things. First, who’s winning and who’s losing that debate? Second, why are legalization supporters winning the debate?
There are a few obvious answers why legalization supporters are winning the debate.
Science reveals that a lot of the excuses for considering marijuana a dangerous drug are flat-out wrong and demonstrably untrue. Even the DEA and the FDA, in their recent refusal to reschedule marijuana under federal law, acknowledged that there is no evidence that marijuana use leads to other illegal drug use. This has been, historically, one the most frequent arguments why marijuana should be illegal, and it just isn’t true. So science is one reason the legalization argument is prevailing.
Another reason is demographic; people growing up in the last 60 years have learned about marijuana first-hand, through direct experience and have observed marijuana use by family, friends, neighbors and throughout society. They have also observed the failure of prohibition to accomplish anything remotely connected with the public good.
A third reason is that the government can’t afford the costs of prohibition, both fiscally and socially.
A fourth reason, and an essential force here, is the advocacy work of groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML and others.
But there’s another reason why legalization is succeeding, one that’s made possible by these prior explanations yet in many ways also makes these prior explanations viable.
This has to do with the vast majority of Americans that occupy the middle ground in the great, long-term, historical debate about marijuana prohibition. They are not avid supporters of either side, neither legalizers nor prohibitionists. They used to believe that the prohibitionists were on the side of civil society. Now they aren’t so sure. In fact, more and more of them have decided that legalizers are not against civil society but indeed for it.
Marijuana legalization will increase funding for government, redirect law enforcement resources toward more important public priorities, weaken the economic and social corruption of illegal drug market, and empower public health advocates to more successfully treat and prevent drug abuse and addiction.
People who want better communities, a better society, who want to enhance the rule of law and improve public health—these people have a stake in civil society and seek its betterment. Those who want to legalize marijuana are on the same side, and those with a stake in civil society are beginning to understand this. This is why legalization is succeeding in America.
The revolution is never over, but like America, it is transformed by history. The revolution, though, is not something that began in the 1960s, but really the same one Americans fought to gain independence. It’s been going on, peacefully ever since, as Americans have worked hard to utilize their freedom and their democracy to keep making their society and their communities better places to live and prosper.
Marijuana legalization is on the side of justice and civil society. A majority of Americans now understand this. That’s why legalization is winning.