Brandeis famously wrote that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” It’s not just the rest of America that’s watching this experiment, though: Believe it or not, Colorado is the first jurisdiction in the world to allow marijuana to be sold lawfully for recreational purposes. (The Dutch tolerate it but it’s still technically forbidden there.) As one pro-legalization activist put it to the Denver Post, “Today, there will be people around the country buying marijuana. But only in Colorado will they be buying it in stores like this one.” It’s still illegal under federal law, of course, but Eric Holder and his boss understand this is one form of federalism their lefty base doesn’t want to see quashed.
Earlier, Charles Cooke of NRO invited opponents on Twitter to make an argument for legalizing alcohol but not marijuana that doesn’t amount to “because that’s how it’s always been.” That’s a fine Burkean conservative impulse but not an argument in itself; if it was, no tradition could be touched, no matter how flawed or wasteful (e.g., the Drug War). Some people argued that the key difference between booze and weed is that it’s possible to enjoy the former without getting buzzed. That’s true, but so what? Lots of people drink mainly or solely for effect. The guys you see walking out of the liquor store or supermarket on Saturday night with cases of MGD aren’t headed home to hold tasting sessions with it. If you’re that worried about Americans getting blitzed, either ban alcohol or impose strict limits on consumption.
Another tweeter told Cooke that America has enough legal vices at this point and doesn’t need another. Okay, but in that case, why not strike a blow for virtue by reinstating Prohibition? That feels like less of an argument against marijuana to me than an argument about timing: Presumably, if we’d maintained the national ban on alcohol in the 1930s but legalized weed, that would have been acceptable as a one-for-one vice trade-off. Given that some sizable chunk of the population has always thought Americans were way too dangerously licentious to cope with any more indulgences, how do we retroactively justify legalizing booze (or, say, dancing at closer than arm’s length)?
Here’s the truth of it:
@charlescwcooke Because hippies smoke pot, while CEOs enjoy a drink. Another iteration of a 50-year culture war.
— Oliver Staley (@Ostaley) January 2, 2014
Yeah, booze is mainstream while marijuana is countercultural, and that carries all sorts of baggage. There are endless examples of successful, respectable people openly enjoying alcohol (starting with your parents, in all likelihood), but because it’s been verboten to openly enjoy weed, the stoner subculture dominates the popular imagination — even though the last three presidents all partook in their youth. The real innovation in what Colorado’s doing is giving pot a shot to go mainstream. Maybe it won’t work; maybe, after the first surge of curiosity, the bulk of the consumer base will indeed be dudes in sandals and sweatshirts made out of hemp. There’s a reason, though, that the man given the distinction of being the first legal buyer in the state is an Iraq War vet who suffers from PTSD. (Footage of his purchase is in the second clip below.) Advocates are desperate to normalize this by expunging the stoner association as much as possible.
Two clips here of day one. The Denver Post also has an extensive gallery of photos, in case you’re curious what a state-sanctioned pot shop looks like.