SOC201 Session Long Project: Module 3 – Social Structure
Group Conformity and the Decriminalization of Marijuana
On December 6th, 2012, the state of Washington legalized the use and possession of marijuana by adults over the age of 21. There were already laws in place to provide for the medical use of marijuana before this date, therefore this new initiative (Initiative 502) pertained mainly to recreational marijuana users. According to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office the day prior to the law going into effect, “The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State. The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.” Regardless of popular opinion in Washington State on the legal status of marijuana, the formal group of the federal government issues this statement to remind the residents of Washington that their actions remained federally illegal, without any reference to criminal debate, medical concerns, or mass hysteria. The formal group that the U.S. Attorneys form demonstrates conformity in the fact that they are reiterating that federal law and the popular state law are in discord. This is in spite of the fact that popular opinion, and now a popular state law, supports decriminalization in the face of federal law.
Social Facilitation and the Decriminalization of Marijuana
The simple election on Initiative 502 demonstrates the ability of each voter to perform a remedial task, in this case voting affirmatively for one’s beliefs. In total, over 3 million voters voiced their opinion. Over 55 percent of those individuals voted in favor of the measure, allowing for the personal freedom of the entire State of Washington to choose whether or not to use or possess marijuana, within the bounds of the law as proposed. Regardless of each voter’s position, either in favor or against, the vote itself shows how an informal group of individuals can become emboldened by being bound together by sensible terms of legalization.
Group Polarization and the Decriminalization of Marijuana
People who identify with each other as a group to achieve a common goal are indeed a force to be reckoned with in a democratic society. However, they can also be rallied together in a way that also seeks to limit personal freedom in a republican government such as the United States. This was demonstrated in 1937 as the elected officials of the U.S. government chose to lead the prohibition of the use and possession of marijuana under the pretense that the version of the active ingredient used in medicine and the same ingredient smoked produced drastically dissimilar effects. The source of information used in the arguments for the prohibition of marijuana were also unorthodox. In one excerpt from the House Hearing regarding the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the...