The US drug policy is changing, pitting states against federal law. This essay explores this inner friction of contradictory drug legislation, and what it may mean for the international drug control regime, itself a result of US drug policy. (4,400 words)
Now that the voters in Colorado and Washington have approved marijuana legalization initiatives, attention has turned quickly to questions surrounding implementation—and in particular to speculation over how the federal government might react. This is entirely understandable, since it is no secret that the newly approved state initiatives conflict with federal law.
Partial reforms have their limits. Most drug crime is not cannabis-related. Moving from punishment to harm reduction may help drug users, but it leaves gangsters in control of supplies and revenues. Many countries still stick to prohibition. The votes in Colorado and Washington were hardly imaginable ten years ago and make deeper change likely. They weaken the Single Convention, the illegal trade, and the prohibition industry that feeds on it.
Washington voters acted boldly last November to begin reforming our nation’s failed policy on marijuana. It was an act of leadership, in stark contrast to the inertia that has perpetuated the failed war on drugs for the past 42 years. But the state’s most important allies in this political fight — its 12-member congressional delegation — have remained mostly silent. They appear to have missed the memo sent by 56 percent of voters: Washington voters want legalized marijuana.
Tens of thousands of people will attend Saturday's "4/20" rally in Denver, creating perhaps the largest collectively produced cloud of marijuana smoke ever at 4:20 p.m. But Lopez doesn't view this year's event as a celebration of Amendment 64, the pro-pot measure that voters passed in November. Instead, it is as much a protest against the measure. "It is still only a legislative act to create an economy and not to end a war that has destroyed thousands of lives." The people behind Amendment 64, likewise, are holding the rally at arm's length.
With two US states - Washington and Colorado - voting to legalise the recreational use of marijuana, a similar liberal approach towards mild intoxicants in India is up for debate. Consumption of marijuana and other cannabis derivatives such as bhang dates back hundreds of years with strong roots in Indian culture. Untill 1985, marijuana and other cannabis derivatives were legally sold in the country through authorised retail shops. The enactment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act in that year - carried out under pressure from the US - pushed the marijuana trade underground.
By legalizing marijuana through direct democracy, Colorado and Washington have fundamentally changed the national conversation about cannabis. As many as 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. The political establishment is catching on. Former president Jimmy Carter endorsed taxed-and-regulated weed. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy suggested "to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law."
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)
The cannabis industry is an easy target for legislatures to saddle with heavy taxes. In Washington State for instance, there is a 25% tax at three different stages of cannabis production: from the grower to the processor, from the processor to the retailer, and the retailer to the customer. These taxes are in addition to any other state or local sales taxes that might apply. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, for instance, has introduced marijuana reform legislation that would enact a 50% excise tax on production.