Will States’ Rights Go to Pot?
Even if you legalize it, I can still criticize it.

Admiring the merchandise at 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary.


Jonah Goldberg

On January 1, the Centennial State (it hasn’t yet changed its nickname to “The Rocky Mountain High State”) became the first place in the country to legalize marijuana sales for recreational purposes.

And Brandon Harris is stoked.

The 24-year-old Harris drove 20 hours from Cincinnati, along with a smoking buddy, to be the first Ohioans to buy legal pot in Colorado.


“It’s such a big day in history,” Harris, told the Washington Times. “The fact that we don’t have to be criminals and can just smoke, and not be looked down on, or have to mess with the local police.”

Well, he’s mostly right. Americans are still free — for now, at least — to look down on people for whatever reason we want. Simply because an activity is legal doesn’t mean I am barred from judging you negatively for engaging in it.

Decorating your room from floor to ceiling with Justin Bieber posters is perfectly legal — so long as you keep the paper a safe distance from the votive candles on your Bieber shrine. But if I walked into my doctor’s office and saw such a display, I would search for a new doctor pretty quickly. The same goes if I found out he was a big pot smoker.

Whether you find that analogy insulting probably depends on whether you smoke a lot of pot (or if you’re a “Belieber”).

But that’s okay with me. As non-judgmentalism becomes part of the secular catechism, people lose sight of the fact that the freedom to do what you want must include the freedom to form your own opinions about how other people use their freedom.

Which brings us back to Mr. Harris. He and his pal were so jazzed by the ability to buy pot legally, they decided to remain in Colorado permanently.

“We’re staying,” he told the Denver Post. “We’re going to become residents.”

Now, if I were an employer interviewing young Mr. Harris, I might ask him, “What brought you to Colorado?” If he answered, “The legal weed,” it’d be a pretty major strike against him. Personally, I think letting dope become so important that you’re willing to uproot your whole life just so you can have it legally all the time doesn’t speak well of you.

But that’s me. Others feel differently. And, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t swear that if Washington, D.C., banned alcohol or caffeine, I wouldn’t pull a Harris and ditch the District.

This is the way it’s supposed to work. People who want to live one way vote with their feet and move to places where they can live the way they want to live. It’s way too soon to know if Colorado’s collective experiment will prove to be a mistake. It’s also too soon to know if some Colorado residents will move to states where weed is illegal as a result. But it’s an experiment worth conducting.

Pot-legalization advocates are fond of casting themselves as the avant-garde of a new libertarian revolution sweeping the nation. I generally hope they’re right. But I also hope we don’t lose sight of the collective right of states and other legally recognized communities and institutions to have the freedom to organize their lives the way they want.

I love America’s love of individual liberty. But no good thing comes without a downside. Particularly since the “rights explosion” of the 1960s and 1970s, public-policy debates are too often framed as the individual versus the government. Presented with that choice, Americans are going to err on the side of individual rights. And that’s usually a good thing. The problem is that the rights of a community — a town, a county, a state, a religious organization, etc. — are left out of that formulation. And they matter.

Man is a social animal and wants to live in a community. Hippies want raw milk, evangelicals want codes of decency, Amish want to reject modern technology, the Sisters of the Poor don’t want to pay for birth control under Obamacare. What’s wrong with that? 

My objection to both the progressive vision of one-size-fits-all government and some extreme notions of individual liberty is that they both lack the imaginative sympathy required to let groups of people organize their lives in the ways that will let the majority live the way they want to live.

Why not let a thousand flowers bloom? If Colorado wants to legalize weed, fine. If Alabama doesn’t, that’s fine too. Alabamians who disagree can fight it out democratically, or they can follow Harris’s lead and move.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Rocky Mountain High
Legal marijuana went on sale in Colorado on January 1 thanks to a new state law, the first of its kind in the nation and a test of how far libertarian attitudes towards recreational drug use might go there and elsewhere. Here’s a look at what might be the beginning of the end of pot prohibition.
The new law allows the sale of marijuana for expressly recreational purposes, no longer requiring a medical prescription. Customers must be over 21 and can purchase up to one ounce per transaction; out-of-state customers can purchase up to a quarter-ounce. Pictured, an eager customer peruses the selection at 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary.
A total of 24 pot shops opened on January 1, mainly in the Denver area. Outside the shops, buyers unfazed by the chill winter weather waited in long lines to purchase marijuana without fear of arrest. Pictured, the line at BotanaCare in Northglenn.
So far state officials have approved 136 licenses for retail sales, all to stores that previously sold marijuana for medical purposes. Pictured, customers wait outside LoDo Wellness Center in Denver.
The state deployed its newly-empaneled marijuana inspectors to stores on the first day of sales. Marijuana sales are regulated by the Department of Revenue. Pictured, an employee at BotanaCare hangs an official state marijuana license.
State officials — and opponents of the new law — will be carefully monitoring sales. Pictured, brochures outlining Colorado's new marijuana laws at BotanaCare.
A commemorative tee-shirt celebrates the start of legal marijuana sales.
Customers at BotanaCare display their enthusiasm.
THE RETAIL EXPERIENCE: Iraq war vet Sean Azzariti — who was active in the campaign to legalize pot sales — made the first official purchase of the day at the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary in Denver. Surrounded by news media, Azzariti bought 3.5 grams of “Bubba Kush” and some pot-laced truffles for just under $50.
The sales counter at Medicine Man in Denver.
Appreciating the aroma of the merchandise at Medicine Man.
Filling an order at Lodo Wellness Center.
Customer service at Evergreen Apothecary in Denver.
A happy buyer celebrates at BotanaCare.
BotanaCare co-owner Cheri Hackett displays sample packs of different marijuana strains at her Northglenn store.
Bagging up some bud at BotanaCare.
Packets of different marijuana strains ready for sale at BotanaCare. Each is given a brand name and a description of the type of effect to expect.
More packets of marijuana, with brand names such as King Tut Kush, Juicy Fruit, and Gypsy Girl.
Marijuana strains on display at Evergreen Apothecary.
Marijuana is also sold rolled into joints.
In addition to cuts of marijuana plants, customers can buy a range of products infused with the drug, such as these “Mountain High Suckers” candies.
THC-laced lollipops at Evergreen Apothecary.
Edible marijuana products at LoDo Wellness Center.
A worker at BotanaCare prepares joints for sale with a mechanical roller.
Most stores grow and process their own marijuana. Pictured, tending the crops in the grow room at Lodo Wellness Center.
Marijuana plans under grow lights at 3D Cannabis Center.
Updated: Jan. 02, 2014