Will Pot Become Legal?

By Megan McArdle

Andrew Sullivan pushes back against Tyler Cowen's argument that aging demographics do not favor pot legalization:


Contra Drum, Tyler Cowen is pessimistic

I don't see marijuana climbing the legalization hill, if it can't make it through current-day California. We're seeing the high water mark for pot, as aging demographics do not favor the idea. 

That assumes that today's younger anti-prohibition generation will get pro-prohibition as they age. But is that true? Maybe having kids changes things, but my experience of ageing boomers is that they're not anti-pot at all. 

In my experience, the big dividing line is having kids.  Read this interview with P.J. O'Rourke and discover some shocking things coming out of his mouth about how he doesn't want his kids to do drugs.  Having kids makes you realize how narrowly you escaped killing yourself--and remember all the friends who overdosed, or got arrested on a DUI, or spent their twenties working at a job that would let them smoke up three times a day, only to realize at age 35 that they had pushed themselves into a dead end.  

Before the pot-smoking parents start crawling out of the woodwork to tell me that I'm totally wrong, that there are lots of parents who support legal marijuana--I'm not saying this happens to every single person who has a kid.  But in my experience, as the kids approach the teenage years, a lot of parents do suddenly realize they aren't that interested in legal marijuana any more, and also, that totally unjust 21-year-old drinking age is probably a very good idea.

For that matter, when I cover consumer credit issues, I'm always surprised how quickly talk turns from the poor to middle class parents' anxieties that their children will be able to get a hold of credit cards and do something stupid with them.  As soon as you start pointing out that laws restricting credit access have at best ambiguous results for the poor--often what the credit was saving them from is even worse than credit card debt--people often drop their concern for the poor, and start on their concern over what kind of trouble their kids might get into.

Maybe we have reached the high-water mark of this sort of personal liberty.  As the baby boomers age, they will be less interested in directly exercising their right to smoke pot, which means that even if they still support legalization, they will be less motivated on the issue.  Meanwhile, there will be more people in the electorate with young adult children who they worry about--and fewer young adult children. 

I can see it going the other way, too--cultural values matter.  But the human mind has a tendency to extrapolate from recent events to a future in which every current trend comes to its logical conclusion.  History is littered with movements, from temperance to industrial policy, that seemed inevitable until they toppled over and died.  There's no particular reason to think that marijuana legalization belongs to the select few notions that actually live to become settled institutions.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/11/will-pot-become-legal/66174/