Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programs of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Yet two parallel trends have resulted in a dramatic change in course: the emergence of left-wing governments that have challenged Washington’s historic patterns of unilateralism and interventionism and growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government.
The success of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington has sparked a new conversation in a nation that is one of the world's top marijuana growers: Should Mexico, which has suffered mightily in its war against the deadly drug cartels, follow the Western states' lead? Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto,opposes legalization, but he also told CNN that the news from Washington and Colorado "could bring us to rethinking the strategy."
Vigorous regulation of a thriving medical-marijuana industry in Colorado offers the best glimpse of what is coming to Washington when it launches its voter-approved social-use market. With continuous surveillance, bar-coded plants and strict financial background checks, Colorado's rules allowed capitalism to be unleased, creating an instant $200 million industry. With retail prices — averagingabout $7.50 a gram — among the cheapest in the country.
David L. Nathan, clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
08 January 2013
Forget the antiquated dogma and judge potprohibition on its own merits. If you still believe that cannabis shouldbe illegal, then you must logically support the criminalization ofalcohol and tobacco, with vigorous prosecution and even imprisonment ofproducers and consumers. Does that sound ridiculous? Then you mustconclude that the only rational approach to cannabis is to legalize,regulate and tax it.
The cry of "states' rights" is not often associated with progressive causes, but with the "war on drugs" comprehensively declared a $1tn failure by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the call has reason and justice on its side. Will the feds carry their fight against the voices expressing popular will from California to Colorado, Washington State and beyond? Or will the White House temper its approach with respect for local democracy?
The results of a survey commissioned by the Drug Policy Action Group shows 57 percent of respondents in favor of legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana. According to Maui Now, that figure marks a 20 percent increase in support from 2005. The poll was accompanied by an economic impact report, which found that marijuana legalization would provide the state with savings of around $12 million a year in enforcement costs, as well as at least $11 million a year in additional revenue through taxation.
Hawaii could join Colorado and Washington as states that have legalized the use of marijuana by adults, under a measure introduced by state House Speaker Joe Souki. House Bill 150, known as the Personal Use of Marijuana Act, would allow adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to cultivate a limited number of marijuana plants in a secure and locked location. It also would allow for licensed and regulated marijuana retail stores, as well as licensed facilities to cultivate, manufacture and test marijuana. (Related story: Hawaii residents support legalizing marijuana, survey finds)
Washington State officials are looking to build a strictly regulated marijuana system that could forestall federal concerns about how the drug will be handled once it’s available for public purchase. Rick Garza of the Liquor Control Board said he expects the federal government will try to take action if Washington’s system has loose controls. He said it’s important for Washington to have a strong regulatory structure, such as how participants in the system are licensed and how the product is handled from growth to the point of sale.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday, but came away no further enlightened about how the federal government will respond to last fall's votes in Washington and Colorado that set up legal markets for marijuana. Ferguson said his message to the Justice Department was that the state hopes to avoid a legal fight, but that his office has a team of lawyers preparing just in case.
While it seems unlikely that the federal government will make much of an effort to arrest pot users in Colorado or Washington—Obama has said he has “bigger fish to fry”— the tension between federal and state laws on marijuana remains. Just last week, an appeals court rejected a suit that sought to lower the classification of medical marijuana under federal drug laws. Justice Louis Brandeis once said that the states should function as “laboratories,” testing new ideas for possible adoption by the whole nation.
Leaders from across Latin America responded within days of the Colorado and Washington vote, demanding a review of drug-war policies that have mired the region in violence. Latin American decisionmakers are now openly questioning why they should continue to sacrifice police and soldiers to enforce drug laws when legal markets for marijuana now exist in the U.S.
Officials tasked with creating a regulated marijuana system in Washington state said they are moving forward with a timeline of issuing producer licenses by August 2013, but said that several challenges and uncertainties still exist surrounding the new law. (See also: Eager marijuana entrepreneurs are in for a long regulatory trip)
An effort is building in Congress to change U.S. marijuana laws, including moves to legalize the industrial production of hemp and establish a hefty federal pot tax. One measure would regulate marijuana the way the federal government handles alcohol: In states that legalize pot, growers would have to obtain a federal permit. Oversight of marijuana would be removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration and given to the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, and it would remain illegal to bring marijuana from a state where it's legal to one where it isn't.
Driven by a groundswell of public opinion, Colorado and Washington State last November became the first states in the U.S. to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That wave of support, it now seems clear, has echoed through the U.S. Congress, which formally questioned the federal government’s prohibitionist drug policy in the form of marijuana-reform bills. (See also: Legalization hits the Hill)
The biggest immediate threat to legalization in Washington and Colorado is the federal government, but even the feds might be hard-pressed to stomp out reform. But before marijuana legalization spreads from Washington and Colorado to other states, it will have to get past a group of hardened drug warriors, many of whom have developed a personal interest in maintaining prohibition. While most of these ideologues lack the authority to actually change laws, their larger purpose is to maintain the marijuana propaganda machine and push back against pro-legalization rhetoric. Here are the top five people.
A handful of legislators recently drew up a letter raising questions and concerns about the law, including whether it can be implemented by December as required under voter-approved Initiative 502. Alison Holcomb, drug-policy director for the ACLU of Washington and one of the law’s sponsors, defended it in a point-by-point response to the letter. Holcomb also implied that some of Hurst’s concerns could lead to a “Big Marijuana” industry whose advertising targets young people.
The Denver City Council will vote in April on whether the state's largest city will opt out of licensing recreational marijuana sales — a move that could dramatically affect legalization efforts in Colorado. City leaders are wrestling with how to implement Amendment 64, which legalized recreational use and possession, cultivation and distribution of limited quantities of marijuana.
Advocates for the legalization of marijuana plan to step up their political giving and lobbying efforts now that members of Congress are taking an interest in changing federal drug laws. The lobbyists say lawmakers who wouldn’t give them the time of day are suddenly interested in meeting with them and introducing legislation following the approval of ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington that legalized recreational use of the drug.
As the push to legalize pot migrates from the margins to the mainstream, it is mellowing some Republicans in the process. “If it was a secret ballot, the majority of Republicans would have voted to legalize marijuana a long time ago,” says GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who opposes the “monstrous” war on drugs.