Legalization contrarians engage in rhetorical jiu jitsu, signifying nothing

Last week was kind of a weird one for prohibitionist sentiment, which is getting stranger the further it is into the legalization era. The reality that legalizing pot doesn’t really cause many problems that weren’t there before (and solves many that were) makes it increasingly difficult for prohibitionists—or “skeptics”—to mount sensible arguments. They either have to engage in rhetorical jiu jitsu or just say outlandish things. Last week, there were doses of both.

Let’s start with the outlandish. What got the most attention, at least on Twitter, was a set of videos of the debate in the Minnesota legislature over a proposal to legalize cannabis (the measure passed, and is awaiting the governor’s signature). Journalist Aaron Rupar collected a series of videos of Republican lawmakers speaking on the subject, and it was really something to behold. Noting that the proposed measure would allow possession of up to eight pot plants, state Sen. Warren Limmer declared that, going by the “videos of DEA raids” he’s seen, “some of these plants are eight and 10 feet tall. And you can have eight of ’em!”

Yes. If something is legal, one can sometimes have a lot of it. They can fill their garage with cases of Manischewitz. Or, in Minnesota, they can have as many military-grade, semiautomatic assault weapons as they want.

But that wasn’t anywhere close to the most insane thing Limmer said. Having noted that the proposed limit on cannabis possession is 1.5 pounds, Limmer declared: “Two ounces—just two ounces!—is the equivalent to three joints.” Limmer was 17 when the Cheech & Chong album, Big Bambu, was released. The record came with a rolling paper the size of the album sleeve. Maybe he was remembering that one time out under the bleachers after school. Or maybe he’s just a hopeless idiot.

Another senator, John Jasinski, declared with a weird, breathy delivery (he seemed very agitated): “I think if this bill passes today in Minnesota, Minnesota is going to go up in smoke.” Jasinski was 12 when the Cheech & Chong movie, Up In Smoke, was released. A few years later, he said in his speech, he became “lazy” from smoking weed, and his grades suffered. Oh, and also he mentioned (for some reason) that he got busted for a DUI a couple of years ago.

There’s more from those guys and others on Rupar’s Twitter feed. But while stuff like this is easy to laugh off, that’s not really the case for what might be called “soft prohibitionism.” These are the sentiments of the “skeptical” types who insist that they’re all for weed being legal, but keep coming up with reasons to rail against it. This is far more insidious.

Last week, it was Thomas Chatterton Williams, one of the giant army of “contrarian” writers employed in recent years by publications like Slate, The Atlantic and The New York Times opinion section. These are the people who have made “cancel culture” and “wokism” major issues in the news, even as actual problems threaten the well-being of all. They have done the same with transgenderism, fomenting moral panic that kids are being rushed into transition surgery (spoiler: they are not).

Williams, it seems, doesn’t like the smell of weed. This minor annoyance was deemed worthy of The Atlantic, where he declared that there needs to be a “taboo against public consumption.” He spent nearly 1,300 words in The Atlantic on this. Oh, to be sure, Williams is all for legalization, he makes sure to say. But, but…

One has to read the whole thing to fully appreciate its sheer perversity. He quotes unrelated academic studies about social trends, and it is written like a political-science treatise (about how he’s annoyed by the smell of weed). But let’s just focus on the opening paragraph, in which he notes that one can smell weed “on the steps of Madison Square Garden,” “at the entrance to the Q train at Union Square,” “at a chessboard in Washington Square Park” and “under some scaffolding erected on any random block in SoHo.”

What I wonder is: Are there any other offensive smells one might notice at any of those places?