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Marijuana in the Nanny State

Smoke and Mirrors

We went pro-pot , pro-gay and pro-Obama. Judging by voter preference, Washington is the most left-leaning state in the union. And yet, as pointed out by Chris “The Day I Tried to Live” Cornell, Seattle remains the refuge of petulant PC pushovers.

During Soundgarden’s first reunion show at the Paramount on Feb. 7, a thin haze of pot smoke hung in the air—a celebratory ambiance familiar at concerts in cities around the world but, prior to the November passing of I-502, uncommon in Seattle. Between songs, Cornell pointed out that though marijuana is legal in Washington, the band encountered more pot smoke during recent shows on the East Coast, where marijuana is not legal. From the audience someone shouted an explanation: “But it’s still illegal to smoke inside!”

And so was revealed the true, docile character of Seattle: We’re exactly as progressive as the law allows.

Though the 3,000 eager fans at the Soundgarden show could’ve been holding pot in their pockets, they couldn’t smoke it at the concert. Or they could’ve illicitly—it happens—if they didn’t fear recrimination from overweening peers more than overzealous security. We’re talking about the gray area of public acceptance, where social norms take precedent over jurisprudence. As Cornell pointed out, in many places where pot is illegal, smoking pot at a concert is publically acceptable. In weed-friendly Washington, not so much.

Smoking marijuana is an inalienable right and I-502 is only a symbolic formality. To believe that anyone anywhere transformed from Nancy Reagan to Rick Steves on Dec. 6 is absurd. And yet, judging by the increased amount of pot smoke I’ve encountered on street corners and in concert venues since November, we’re more likely to engage in the still-illegal act of public consumption now that private possession has been legalized.

This newfound bravado suggests we needed approval from the Nanny State before we allowed ourselves to freely engage in an activity that we felt fine about to begin with. It suggests we fear recrimination—legal, social—for a harmless personal decision. It suggests we’re a bunch of wusses.

The people of New Orleans—a city where celebration is an ingrained ethos—have a catchphrase: Do whatcha wanna. Anything goes, just be responsible for yourself. (Noble in concept, often ugly in practice. But that’s freedom.) In Seattle, we wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of responsibility. Hence our own unofficial city motto, useful because it applies to a variety of contexts: Do you mind?

See more in the March 2013 issue   →