Social Mood Conference | Socionomics Foundation

By Robert Folsom | November 8, 2012

Tuesday of this week was the once-every-four-years occasion that offers one of the broadest available measures of social mood.

Citizens express their mood not only in the choice for president, but also in how they vote for initiatives at the state and local level. Perhaps lost in the shuffle of other election news you’ve followed was the outcome of a vote in Colorado and Washington regarding the use of marijuana.

Mind you, the ballot initiative in those two states was not about approving the use of medical marijuana; that had happened years earlier.

What’s different this year is that for the first time ever, state voters approved an initiative which basically said if you’re 21 or older, then…

“It’s okay to get high… just because you want to.”

A very brief bit of history helps explain how this happened.

California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which extended legal protection to doctors who recommend and patients who use marijuana for medical reasons. This was the first major step in the “medical marijuana” movement, though it made only sporadic progress in the decade that followed. Beyond a few mostly Western states, the movement found meager legislative support.

Until around 2007, that is.

In 2007 and 2008, legislatures in 27 states considered bills related to marijuana — each one sought to relax or eliminate the current penalties for use and/or possession in those states. The trend has continued on state ballots each year since then — and in fact, Tuesday saw Massachusetts approve medical marijuana.

This is in keeping with other recent measures of public sentiment, such as the ABC News/Washington Post survey that found that 81% of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana (up from 69% in 1997). The same survey found 46% support “legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use” (up from 22% in 1997).

Now, please understand that my purpose is not to condone or condemn pot smoking (okay, I did inhale… but that was a long time ago).

Instead, I want to show that the timing of this trend is no accident. Above I noted that 2007 began a measurable change in attitude — that is, a change in the direction of social mood. This week’s election shows that maturing trend continues in the same direction. Adults in Colorado and Washington are free to use pot recreationally.

The July 2009 issue of The Socionomist published Euan Wilson’s “The Coming Collapse of a Modern Prohibition,” a landmark study showing the parallel between today’s marijuana laws and the repeal of the 21st Amendment (alcohol prohibition). That study appeared nearly 2 1/2 years ago, yet this week proved it to be more relevant now than the day it published. Read it and see for yourself.

That issue (and every other issue of The Socionomist) is freely available in the subscribers-only archive: Subscribe now and the issue will be on your screen within moments. Follow this link for more.

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Andrea Dibben contributes research.