When people go to the polls two weeks from now they won't just be voting for candidates, in some states, they'll be passing judgment on social issues. In Oregon, Washington and the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado it's the legalization of marijuana. Part of this has to do with cash-starved governments looking for new things to tax for more revenue. But much of it has to do with the growing acceptance or at least tolerance for a drug that was once considered the devil's weed and a flashpoint for cultural and generational warfare.
A showdown over the fate of the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary heads to federal court, and the outcome could hint at what lies ahead as a growing number of states opt for legalization. This fall, Oakland became the first municipality to sue federal prosecutors in an attempt to block them from shuttering a medical cannabis facility.
Heather J. Haase, Nicolas Edward Eyle, Sebastian Scholl , Joshua Raymond Schrimpf
31 July 2012
The way the world looks at drug control is changing. There has been a growing awareness of the issue for the past decade, as well as increasing public outcry over what many see as a failure of the once popular "war on drugs." Nowhere is this battle more pronounced than in the so-called "marijuana wars," which are slowly growing into an old-fashioned standoff between the states and the federal government.
Votes in Washington and Colorado last month to legalize pot for recreational use turbocharged marijuana as a legitimate business opportunity. Business people packed a marijuana-industry conference in Denver the day after the election, and shares of publicly-traded companies spiked — one that sells marijuana vending machines jumped 3,000 percent.
Many Washington residents are looking to cash in on the newly legal and potentially lucrative marijuana market, which they hope will give them a new start, create jobs, and boost Washington's slumping economy. A diverse bunch, prospective marijuana entrepreneurs range from cannabis novices to experienced sellers crawling out of the black market. State officials are unsure how much revenue marijuana will bring because the market has never been regulated. But experts predict the industry could fetch up to $2bn over a five-year period.
The most important story of the Summit of the Americas was the Latin American demand to open the debate on an alternative to the ‘war on drugs’. The emergence of an increasingly independent and assertive Latin America insisting on a change of direction on drugs reflects an important shift in the terms of the relationship with the United States. Clamor for “democratization” of the debate and a search for new alternatives stems from the perception that Latin American societies pay a disproportionate price in lost lives, hijacked justice systems, abuses in overcrowded prisons, and displaced small farmers, because of the U.S.-led strategy that has prioritized stemming the supply of drugs over reducing its own demand.
Pot legalization backers hope to start gathering signatures as soon as this summer to put the question to voters. Given Colorado`s low signature threshold for ballot initiatives, which currently stands at about 86,000 people, they say they expect an easy path to the polls. Colorado voters defeated a legalization measure in 2006, as did California voters last year. But activists here are regrouping for another push.
In two weeks, adults in this state will no longer be arrested or incarcerated for something that nearly 30 million Americans did last year. For the first time since prohibition began 75 years ago, recreational marijuana use will be legal; the misery-inducing crusade to lock up thousands of ordinary people has at last been seen, by a majority of voters in this state and in Colorado, for what it is: a monumental failure. That is, unless the Obama administration steps in with an injunction ...
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.
Three marijuana legalization initiatives were on the ballot this week, and all three won. That’s a better outcome than I was expecting. I was surprised when voters in Colorado and Washington approved legalization two years ago, and I was surprised again when voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., followed suit. Partly that’s because, after 25 years of advocating drug legalization (along with various other unpopular positions), I am accustomed to losing. But it’s also because I had looked at the polling data.
Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action. This June will mark forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs," identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1." As far as I know, no celebrations are planned. What's needed, indeed essential, are reflection -- and action.
Voters approved Amendment 64 legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado on Tuesday, making this one of two states to end prohibition of the drug but also raising new legal questions and setting up potential court battles. Among the opponents was Gov. John Hickenlooper, who said that "the voters have spoken and we have to respect their will. This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly."
Colorado officials and marijuana advocates on Wednesday looked toward an imminent confrontation with the federal government one day after voters in the state endorsed a measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he is trying to speak soon with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to learn how the Justice Department will respond to the legalization measure's passage. (See also: Colorado attorney general Suthers says he will respect marijuana measure)
Those who have argued for decades that legalizing and taxing weed would be better than a costly, failed U.S. drug war have their chance to prove it, as Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow pot for recreational use. While the measures earned support from broad swaths of the electorate in both states, they are likely to face resistance from federal drug warriors. As of Wednesday, authorities did not say whether they would challenge the new laws.
British Columbia’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry could take a “significant” blow now that two U.S. states – including its closest neighbour to the south – have voted to legalize marijuana. “The outcome of these votes in Washington State and Colorado is going to be a significant factor for this industry here in British Columbia,” Werner Antweiler, a professor at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business, said in an interview Wednesday.
Should marijuana be treated like alcohol? Or should it remain in the same legal category as heroin and the most dangerous drugs? Votes by Colorado and Washington to allow adult marijuana possession have prompted what could be a turning point in the nation's conflicted and confusing war on drugs. Both states are holding off on plans to regulate and tax the drug while waiting to see whether the Justice Department would assert federal authority over drug law. (See also: Marijuana prosecutions dropped in anticipation of legalization)
The election results this week from Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and Arkansas demonstrate that public opinion about cannabis has moved much faster than the positions of elected officials. Despite what the voters in Washington and Colorado did, growing and selling marijuana will remain federal felonies. The federal reaction is crucial, and at the moment unpredictable. We probably won’t know until a new attorney general takes office.
No sooner had the voters of Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalise marijuana than the predictions began: visions – both overexcited and apocalyptic – of busloads of stoned tourists turning the states into Rocky mountain or Pacific north-west versions of Amsterdam. However such speculation may be premature. There are a few more hurdles before legally buying and selling marijuana in the US can become reality.
In an effort to ensure new voter-approved amendments that legalize limited use of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington are not overrun by the federal government, Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette introduced bipartisan legislation that aims to curtail such a scenario. "My constituents have spoken, and I don't want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens."