I remember the first time I was shocked to smell marijuana in a public place.
Well, actually, it’s 45 years ago so I don’t remember the details all that well.
But I think I was at some concert or another during the peace and love era and folks were toking away, the pungent aroma of the weed came wafting through the night.
A love child myself in the late '60s and early '70s, I wasn’t really all that shocked when I smelled the pot so much as secretly pleased. Why not, I remember thinking, how is it any more harmful than Boone’s Farm apple wine (remember that awful stuff?) or that syrupy Southern Comfort that my tune-in and turn-off generation would swig ourselves into oblivion with back then?
It was just another mood-altering substance, we thought when we were kids. Not the hard or dangerous stuff like cocaine or heroin or LSD (though plenty of us eventually drifted off into those dead ends too). My guess is that a good chunk of my contemporary baby-boomers still think smoking marijuana for fun or pleasure is no big deal.
Though certainly not everyone, including in my own circles. There’s no shortage of my generationers who’ve never touched marijuana or any other illegal drugs. My sense, however, is that they are a minority.
In the 45 years since the love and peace days, I’ve long since stopped smoking marijuana (my lungs don’t want me smoking anything these days). Likewise, many of my closest friends have long since stopped with the weed, but our attitudes toward it have remained pretty much the same.
So it won’t be a shock to me if progressive Massachusetts joins Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia and fully legalizes the use of recreational marijuana on Election Day. On the other hand, I won’t be shocked if New Englanders, marching to our own drummers, turn it down.
In the decades since 1968, we’ve learned a lot more about the devastation of drug addiction and many people will pause before legalizing something that’s so often proved to be debilitating to both individuals and families. There’s simply no denying marijuana is a part of a psychotropic and legal drug scene that handled wrongly often leads to catastrophe. Of course, so too do too many french fries and cheeseburgers, if we’re being truthful to reality.
Massachusetts, for all its liberal reputation, is home to no small percentage of cultural conservatives, particularly first- and second-generation ethnic folks. And then of course, don’t we all, to some extent or another, want to tell other people what they should and should not be doing.
The bottom line is that we don’t yet know what we don’t yet know about Massachusetts voters and marijuana legalization.
That’s what the New Bedford City Council and Police Chief Joe Cordeiro found out last week when they got too far ahead of their constituents and tried to not only ban the outdoor use of recreational marijuana, but to give city police the power to arrest someone for smoking pot at say a public park. That would be opposed to just issuing some sort of a warning or citation, which is what would now be done in most cases for someone drinking alcohol in public. Or for that matter, for someone smoking a small amount of pot in public since Massachusetts voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008. That’s provided there is no other illegal activity such as fighting or making too much noise or something.
The truth is that a significant chunk of the American population wants to fully legalize marijuana. And not a small chunk of people want to pretty much make legalize all mood-altering substances.
Attitudes have changed with 35 years of a war on drugs that’s been a loser and in a country where personal freedom is valued more and more.
What’s more, not a small number of people nowadays think that when it comes to illegal drugs, we can no longer afford to criminalize our way out of the problem. There simply are not enough tax dollars to build enough jails and employ enough corrections officers. Better, some say, to tax the drugs, bring the prices down, and discourage the underground economy and resulting endemic crime. Better, some believe, to use the tax dollars for education and rehabilitation programs.
Are the libertarians right on drugs? Most folks probably don’t want to go that far just yet.
But we may be getting there.
Like gorging on fatty foods, downing hard liquor and smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana may soon be on the list of vices that people are willing to tolerate. Something people think you shouldn’t really do too much, but something people don’t want to slap you on the wrist for it if you do.
Follow Jack Spillane on Twitter @JackSpillaneSCT.