Marijuana as Morality Policy


Author: Kathleen Ferraiolo
Page Range: 139-161
Published in: International Journal of Ethics, 17#2-3
ISSN: 1535-4776

Table of Contents


One of the most dramatic shifts in public opinion in recent memory has occurred around the issue of marijuana legalization. Data from the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Organization document that over the past 20 years, the percent of Americans who support legalization has more than doubled. Political scientists have long understood drug control policy as a quintessential example of “morality policy.” Morality policy scholars posit that issues such as drug control, abortion, LGBTQ rights, and gambling involve debates over core values, engender high levels of citizen participation, and are resistant to compromise (Haider-Markel 1996; Mooney 2001). This chapter examines whether marijuana policy continues to feature morality- and values-based arguments. Recent developments in the morality policy literature have cast doubt on whether morality issues display certain intrinsic characteristics, or whether the morality content of policy topics can fluctuate over time (Kreitzer, Kane, and Mooney 2019). Has marijuana policy been de-moralized, and if so, what factors account for this change? I answer this question by investigating the history of medical/recreational marijuana legalization measures, the discourse and framing surrounding those measures, advocacy literature, and trends in public support in order to evaluate whether, how, why, and when marijuana policy has been de-moralized.

Keywords: morality policy, marijuana, drug control, legalization

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