Our friends at Washington Monthly have provided a vivid example of a piquant feature of drug legalization debates.
As a group, the editors and writers at Washington Monthly have been broadly supportive of the proposition that we should regulate marijuana like alcohol. Yet the current issue carries Tim Heffernan’s expose on the monopolistic, addiction-generating, profit-grubbing ways of…you guessed it, the alcohol industry.
I am not picking on our WashMo friends as some sort of bizarre exception to the rule, they are very much in the left-wing mainstream: Strongly convinced that marijuana should be regulated like alcohol, while simultaneously being completely distrustful of the very industry they are holding up as a model (this is even moreso the case when the comparision is made to the legal tobacco industry).
Meanwhile on the political right, a parallel role reversal occurs. Most conservatives want to punch those dirty hippees who are trying to push back government control and make way for a private sector business because, damn it, that’s, that’s…wait a minute, that’s what WE always say is a good idea! Those damn hippees stole our playbook!
What is going on? Why do liberals who are normally skeptical of corporate power and aware of the limits of government regulation become wide-eyed innocents when singing the virtues of a legal marijuana industry? Why do government-hating pro-business conservatives suddenly want the government to stamp out all the private sector marijuana entrepreneurs?
Way too many aspects of U.S. politics are explained as being a “legacy of the 1960s and 1970s”. But…this is a legacy of the 1960s and 1970s. The cultural coding of marijuana as a thing that liberals like and conservatives hate is so strong that each group tends to ignore all its other beliefs on this issue and adopt the other’s traditional stance.
I am not a baby boomer, so the odds are I will never get this at a gut level because I wasn’t “there”. But it still fascinates me as a sociopolitical phenomenon.