State marijuana legalization would be significant
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 21:10
As my regular readers know, I support treating marijuana more like alcohol than heroin. I’ve been advocating for drug policy reform for many years now, and most recently that’s taken the form of supporting ballot initiatives in Colorado, Washington and Oregon that would legalize marijuana for adults over 21.
When talking about this subject, a common criticism I hear is that legalizing marijuana at the state level wouldn’t matter, since it would still be illegal at the federal level. People tell me the federal government would just step in and nothing would actually change within the state. But the reality is that even if the feds get involved, the passage of these initiatives would be groundbreaking, and would change a lot within the state’s borders. Let’s look at Colorado’s Amendment 64 as an example.
If Amendment 64 passes, Colorado’s constitution would actually be changed to legalize marijuana for adults ages 21 and above. Therefore, the state legislature would be prevented from passing any laws to re-prohibit marijuana, and any attempt to bring back prohibition would have to be in the form of another constitutional amendment. Medical marijuana in California was also passed as an amendment, which has led to the California Supreme Court unanimously striking down overly harsh restrictions on medical marijuana made by the legislature. Enshrining the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado’s constitution would be huge.
So imagine, it’s Nov. 7. The votes are in, and Amendment 64 passed. What now? According to the initiative, the Department of Revenue would need to draft regulations for licensing marijuana businesses – such as cultivation facilities and retail stores – by July 1, 2013. But this leaves a maximum period of about eight months where Amendment 64 will have passed, but no licensing requirements will have been created. A reading of the initiative makes it seem like during this time, while no marijuana businesses will be able to operate, it will be totally legal for individuals to engage in many marijuana-related activities.
Starting right when the amendment is passed, adults over 21 years of age will be able to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants. They would be able to consume marijuana, just not in public or in a way that endangers others. Selling it would still be totally illegal, but transferring up to an ounce without payment would be allowed (so that no one goes to jail for passing a joint to a friend).
Now, it’s possible that the Department of Revenue will refuse to pass those regulations out of misguided concerns of federal prosecution. Luckily, the authors thought of this possibility, and included a backup mechanism. According to their site, regulatemarijuana.org, “Under the provisions of the measure, the department will license marijuana establishments at the state level, and should it fail to act, localities will be permitted to issue such licenses.” While a lot of localities would probably refuse to issue any licenses – some city councils have come out in opposition to Amendment 64 – there are also many towns and cities that would jump at the opportunity.
Whether it’s the state or localities that issue licenses, the federal government will probably get involved. But this would be ineffective. 97 percent of marijuana arrests in Colorado are by local or state police, who are not charged with enforcing federal law. While the federal government would probably be able to shut down any licensed businesses, they would not have the manpower to enforce laws against personal possession.
That means if Amendment 64 passes, it would be legal for adults to consume marijuana, as well as grow their own for personal use. The nation will then witness what happens – nothing, really. Arrests will drop significantly. Violent crime may drop, as users will be able to produce their own marijuana and stop buying from dealers who may engage in violence to keep their market share. The sky will not fall, and the fabric of society will not disintegrate.
This would prove to the nation, and the world, that marijuana is not the “devil’s weed” that opponents paint it as, and that criminalizing a drug that’s safer than alcohol is complete nonsense. Hopefully, the world would learn from this example and follow Colorado’s lead. So even if the federal government steps in, legalizing marijuana on the state level could be the spark that ignites an explosion of drug policy reform.