With the re-election of President Barack Obama on Nov. 6 came the success of a bevy of progressive initiatives around the country, particularly concerning initiatives on gay marriage and legalizing marijuana.
Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states in which voters approved gay marriage on the ballot, whereas Minnesota became the first to reject a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which has previously been endorsed by voters in 30 states.
Gay marriage is already legal in Massachusetts and five other states, plus the District of Columbia, but the victories on Nov. 6 represent a massive progressive shift in the American electorate. Ephs from all over the country expressed optimism on Election Day that the victories indicate that further marriage equality initiatives are forthcoming in traditionally conservative states. In fact, even some Romney supporters I was with, as they glumly watched their candidate’s paths to victory tighten and disappear, seemed pleased about this historic development. Ashley Graves ’15, who, like many students, is a supporter of gay marriage, expressed relief that the liberal attitude at the College and in her home state of Connecticut is gaining traction across the country. Connecticut voted to re-elect President Obama 58.4 percent to Mitt Romney’s 40.4 percent.
“I totally support gay marriage,” Graves said. “I don’t think that love should be confined to be between a man and a woman, and I think that more states are coming to realize that fact. I love that more people are actively supportive of gay marriage at Williams than they would be elsewhere, because this is such a diverse community.” One wonders, however, whether socially conservative students are more common than people generally think – simply less outspoken about their beliefs out of fear of being judged by their liberal peers. There are certainly still many students and Massachusetts residents opposed to gay marriage, but if the statewide vote for the president – who is supportive of gay marriage – is any indication, had gay marriage come up for a vote again in Massachusetts, it would have passed by a wide margin on the state ballot and an even wider one in Williamstown.
Perhaps even less controversial on campus was the victory of marijuana legislation on election night. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved outright marijuana legalization, though a similar ballot initiative was defeated in Oregon. Massachusetts voters passed Question No. 3, a ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes, by an overwhelming endorsement of 63 percent for to 37 percent against. In Williamstown, the question passed by a margin of 73 percent to 27 percent. The law, which will take effect Jan. 1, will eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana users with cancer, Parkinson’s, AIDS and other conditions doctors see fit to treat with marijuana. The law is designed to more tightly regulate prescriptions and distribution than in California and Colorado. However, Massachusetts lawmakers and law enforcement have expressed concerns that the system is ripe for exploitation. Director of Campus Safety and Security Dave Boyer did not respond to requests for comment on how marijuana legislation in Massachusetts affects the College community.
Students at the College seemed ebullient about the prospect of more accessible, higher-quality marijuana whether they supported Obama or Romney, Elizabeth Warren or Scott Brown. On election night, many students watching results in Paresky Auditorium also kept track on their computers of Question No. 3’s progress, becoming ever more joyful as the margin of passage increased throughout the night. Though marijuana is decriminalized in the state, much of the College is within a drug-free school zone due to the proximity of Williamstown Elementary School to campus. This makes obtaining marijuana on campus relatively difficult as distributers face stiffer criminal penalties and, if enrolled at the College, possible expulsion for dealing within a school zone.
Presumably, if doctors in Massachusetts are willing to give out “green cards” for maladies like anxiety or sleeplessness – commonly faked to game the system – students will be able to legally and reliably obtain a large quantity of potent marijuana. Though I don’t think that a majority of students at the College smoke regularly, the student body’s liberal undercurrents suggests a very tolerant view toward drug use, which many perceive as less harmful or dangerous than binge drinking.
Some students, however, expressed reservations. AJ Solovy ’15, who describes herself as the “most liberal of liberal people,” nevertheless said that the prospect of medical marijuana made her nervous based on her experience in her home state of Washington, where marijuana has been legal for medicinal purposes since 1998. “I know people make very legitimate, rational public policy [arguments] out of [the marijuana debate], but for me it’s a moral issue,” Solovy said. “I can see more validity as far as medical marijuana goes, but anecdotally I know people [in high school] who abused the system. And on [election night], looking at the Facebook statuses from people in Washington, it seems like everyone my age sees the new law as more celebratory than a positive policy move.” Coming from a state with relatively accessible marijuana, Solovy said she was “honestly kind of surprised by how few people here smoke compared to at my high school, but [like in Washington], I think kids here will definitely take advantage of it.”