What to watch for if you want to stay ahead of the trend in legalization
The marijuana legalization movement scored big wins on election night. Voters in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine approved recreational marijuana use, and several other states legalized medical marijuana use. The Socionomics Institute’s Alyssa Hayden sat down with Matt Lampert and Alan Hall to talk about what’s driving the trend towards legalization.
[Editor’s note: The text version of this interview is below.]
Alyssa Hayden: I’m Alyssa Hayden with the Socionomics Institute, and today I’m here with Matt Lampert, director of research at the Institute and Alan Hall, senior analyst at the Institute. Thanks for taking the time to be here today.
The presidential election is of course gobbling up most of the headlines today, but there’s other big news to talk about—the marijuana legalization movement has gained its biggest victory in years. California, Massachusetts and Nevada have legalized recreational use of the drug. Maine seems to be on the verge. Other states like Florida and Arkansas have legalized medical use of the drug. What’s driving this trend towards legalization?
Matt Lampert: This is something that we’ve tracked in The Socionomist going all the way back to 2009 when our colleague Euan Wilson did a study on marijuana. He looked at was whether or not there was a connection between social mood and drug use. He didn’t really find a whole lot there, but what he did find is even more interesting. What did fluctuate with social mood was social tolerance toward marijuana. When mood was trending positively, people were more restrictive with regard to pot. They tended to put prohibitions on the consumption of the drug, for example. But when mood was trending negatively, society was more relaxed toward the drug and some of those restrictions were relaxed. And so in 2009, Euan had just lived through a tremendous downswing in the markets, and he said, “This is the environment, in terms of social mood, where pot legalization could really gain some traction.” And he forecasted an end to the war on drugs and the beginning of the trend toward legalization of pot. We started to see that in 2012, when the first couple of states came on board. And a few more states came on board last night.
We think this is the tip of the iceberg. As mood trends negatively, we’re going to see more and more social tolerance toward marijuana. Eventually, going out and buying pot will be just as easy as buying a beer or a cigarette.
Alyssa: Marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug, federally. That puts it amongst LSD, heroin and ecstasy. In the government’s eyes, this means that there’s no medical benefits to marijuana, and there’s potential for high abuse of the drug. In your opinion, are the legalization measures that were passed last night going to prompt the federal authorities to reclassify the drug? Do you see that happening?
Alan Hall: President Obama said he thinks a lot of pressure will be put on the federal government by the states to reclassify. We’re also seeing some very interesting moves. The drug war caused the growth of the prison industrial complex. There have been a lot of pardons of nonviolent criminals that have been in jail for drug-related crimes recently. You’re seeing this shift in attitudes across the board. There’s a sudden realization that pot is not the evil weed that it was made out to be for so long. It looks useful in the medical sense in some cases and certainly less damaging than alcohol in many cases.
Matt: And just to jump back on the scheduling of marijuana—over the summer, the DEA had the opportunity to reschedule marijuana, and they chose not to do so; they kept it as a Schedule 1 substance. Another element in that trend is that about a year and a half ago, there was talk that as many as 12 or 13 states would have ballot referendums in this election on pot. Well it ended up being a much lower number, but everywhere that it was on the ballot, it passed. I think those two signs—the smaller number of states and the failure of the DEA to reclassify—both indicate that we’re still early in the trend, and there’s a lot of room to run. The trend of social mood will give us a pretty good indicator of when we can expect more and more states to come on board and when the federal government may take another look at rescheduling pot.
Alyssa: We have a newly elected president and Congress, of course. Where do you see them taking drug policy in the future?
Alan: I think it will depend upon what kind of things [Donald Trump] sees in states. I think that, once again, you should watch the trend of social mood if you want to know what’s going to happen with marijuana legalization. What do you think, Matt?
Matt: I completely agree. I think this is an issue that’s bigger than one president, one administration. It’s really a movement that started from the bottom up. It’s a grassroots movement with local organizers who are leading campaigns to get initiatives on ballots and get those initiatives passed. The trend in social mood will inspire, or not, more and more people to join that movement. So if you have your finger on the pulse of social mood, you’ll have your finger on the pulse of the legislation movement as well.
Alyssa: Well thanks so much for taking the time today to talk about this important issue. We’ll certainly keep our eye on the developing trend in the coming years. Thank you.
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