De Facto Cannabis Legalization?

Eric HolderThere is amazing news out of Washington today. The Huffington Post reported that the Justice Department is going to stop prosecuting cannabis laws in Colorado and Washington, at least for now. There are, of course, exceptions big enough to drive a SWAT team through. But this is amazing because it is unquestionably a move in the right direction.

It wasn’t until 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act that we had any federal drug laws. Truly, if drug use is an issue, it is a local issue. But at least that was a tax act—a proper form of federal government law, even if it was just a pretense. Since then, even pretense has gone and we’ve been left with more and more laws and harsher and harsher penalties for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to appear “tough on crime” to their constituencies.

What we really need is to repeal the federal drug laws. It isn’t like the states don’t have all of the same laws anyway. It’s not like repealing these laws would create a free for all. And the feds could concentration of the transportation of drugs into the country and across state lines. Again: these are perfectly justified uses of federal power. And here’s the thing: conservatives should love this. After all, the states are supposedly the laboratories of democracy. Will legalizing cannabis destroy society? Well, Colorado and Washington will let us know!

Of course, conservatives especially will be against this. They are always against states rights if they increase the freedom of individuals. That’s why the banner “states’ rights” has always been a joke. It’s just a dog whistle for “oppress minorities.” But to actually allow states to try less punitive solutions to social ills? Forget about it! And notice: Massachusetts was used as a laboratory of democracy with healthcare reform. And it worked! And what was the conservative response: not in my nation!

The problem is not just conservatives, of course. At this point, federal drug laws have been around for such a long time no one remembers when they weren’t. Everyone thinks that they have always been there and if they haven’t, they were put in place for very good reasons. If by “very good reasons” you mean hatred of Chinese, blacks, and Latinos, then yes, they were put in place for very good reasons. Otherwise, no. Drug related problems are far worse since the laws.

So this is good news. But there are so many ways that it can go wrong, it will not shock me if it does. After all, it will only take some teen aged suicide in Colorado who is found to have smoked cannabis. I can see the headlines now, “Teen Dies Because of Colorado Pot Law.” Regardless of this kind of thing, once a Republican is in the White House, I’m sure that the Justice Department will want to reverse course on this. But there is also a good possibility that nothing will go wrong by the time we get a new John Ashcroft, and cannabis tolerance will be the new normal.

When have I ever been this positive about anything?


A couple of weeks ago, my nephew made fun of my use of the term “cannabis.” He should have known better than say anything because then he was treated to a half hour dissertation on racist drug laws and the etymology of the word “marijuana.”

And just to head off any complaints: the new cannabis laws relate only to adults. But that will not stop people from arguing that the greater availability of the drug is leading to children getting it. And finally: I personally hate cannabis. It clearly has a more pleasant effect on other people than it does on me.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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