Just Say No (File photo)

A thoughtful look at legalization: What happened to “Just Say No”?

“Just Say No” is one of those dated cultural milestones that now seems more distant than it should. Note: It’s been less than 20 years since Nancy Reagan’s program was at its pinnacle, and already two states in the union have legalized recreational marijuana as everybody from Republicans to Democrats are guessing on what states will be the next to fall.

Four major polls, same results: How do Americans feel about marijuana legalization? They want it now.

The Atlantic put together a thoughtful look back at “Just Say No” and its peers — and many of reporter Mark Stricherz’s findings will surprise most readers. Among the more telling figures: Fewer high-school seniors are smoking pot now than in the late-’70s. The conversation, too, has changed as “medical marijuana changed the national conversation over weed from a behavioral issue involving teenagers to a quality-of-life one involving mostly adults,” Stricherz writes.

“Whatever you think of ‘Just Say No,’ its decline has warped the debate over the legalization of marijuana in this country. It has contributed to the fuzzy notion that generational replacement is and will be the driving force in American attitudes toward pot. ‘Millennials are at the forefront of the recent rise in public support for same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana,’ Pew Research concluded in a March report. Older Americans who oppose pot are dying off, the report added.”

I remember proudly wearing a green “Just Say No” pin during grade school at Mesa Elementary School in Westminster, a northern suburb of Denver. I wasn’t passionate about the issue, as it was a thoroughly foreign substance to my 12-year-old self. But with 25 years of distance between then and now, it’s fascinating to look back at a very different time in America.