Let's get the personal out of the way: I've never consumed marijuana in any form. Not only have I never inhaled it, I've never even touched a joint in passing (just wait ... there's more of these double entendres). Never eaten a "special" brownie. I've hardly ever even been in a room where it was smoked, and I came of age in the 70s and 80s!
The closest I ever came to smoking anything was when I rolled up a small piece of legal pad paper and thought about "smoking" it while blowing the illicit (har!) smoke up the incinerator chimney (remember those? they're illegal now.), at about age 12. This was an attempt to show some creativity I rather obviously lacked in rebelling against my parents. I was the last of seven kids and by then, my parents had apparently exhausted the "rebel" gene.
But, yeah, I voted for legalizing marijuana in Colorado (by the way, I'm not the only SoCon I know who did so). I thought about abstaining (from voting) on the issue, but I reasoned my way to a "yea," as follows.
1. As a matter of justice: It seems fundamentally unfair to me that people caught in possession of marijuana serve any jail time alongside criminals (e.g., thieves) and violent offenders. The guy who downs a few too many beers while sitting on his sofa taking in the Broncos game is no more deserving of such treatment than the 18-year-old getting high on his dime bag over the weekend. It's just not right.
2. I believe in forgiveness: I believe in it so much thatI don't even want women who procure an abortion to be legally punished, although I believe the evil committed in abortion is very grave indeed. The young adult looking for recreational use of a mind-altering substance can hardly be accused of committing a grave evil. He should not have his life and record irrevocably stained by such a minor infraction. Which leads me to...
3. The piety imposed by my generation of law enforcement and prosecutors is disgusting: C'mon. The 50-year-old prosecutor putting the 25-year-old in jail for growing marijuana in his basement has never gotten high? Doubtful.
4. Marijuana users are less likely to endanger others than alcohol users. There's a bevy of bad behaviors that (a) go along with alcohol consumption and (b) are much less prevalent among marijuana users, including domestic violence and driving while intoxicated. I have it firsthand from former marijuana users that the effects of getting high are more likely to lead to a characteristic passivity and slight paranoia about one's ability to function, which, for instance, makes one less inclined to get behind the wheel.
I'm a conservative. I understand life is a series of trade-offs. Despite the serious behavior problems (and even deaths!) which come along with alcohol consumption, I don't want to make it illegal. Marijuana is even less of a concern. But, even more importantly...
5. We need a better method for tackling the gateway drug issue: This is what decided it for me. A good friend who struggled with addiction problems throughout her young adulthood explained to me how legalizing marijuana might end its use as a gateway drug. The drug dealer is never satisfied to have his customers using marijuana. He's a businessman and he's looking to increase his margins. He does this by lacing his marijuana with more addictive substances. His customer unwittingly buys a bag of laced marijuana, and ends up addicted to crack (I'm making up this example, as I have no real knowledge of the drug culture). You've never heard of anyone picking up a fifth at the liquor store and consequently ending up addicted to meth, have you? If we regulate and tax pot (reasonably, so as to avoid creating a black market), there's no reason we can't close the gateway. Inspect the product. Tax it enough to cover the costs of paying for the inspectors. The pot dispensary is no more a problem than the liquor store. Done.
As I say, I'm a social conservative. But, on this issue, I've been convinced to take the libertarian position. I don't think there's anything good about marijuana consumption (I don't buy the medicinal efficacy argument). But I'm also strongly opposed to the idea that virtue can be coerced.
If, as a society, we fail to convince people that marijuana consumption is stupid, and even brain-damaging in the long run, this is one case where I think we can afford to suffer the natural consequences. And we might even decrease injustice and make progress against the drug culture.