What is the Election Day significance of the approval by Colorado and Washington voters of “recreational marijuana” initiatives (passed by 55 percent and 56 percent of the vote, respectively); of the approval by Massachusetts voters of a “medical marijuana” initiative making it the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana; and of the approval by Michigan voters in a number of cities to decriminalize it and okay medical marijuana dispensaries in Kalamazoo by a 2-to-1 voter margin?
The chief significance is not that for the first time since the 1937 Marijuana Stamp Tax Act (prohibition), and for the first time since President Richard Nixon’s 1971 Declaration of the War on Drugs, now, in two states adults can legally cultivate, buy, sell, possess, and use a small amount of marijuana (a one-ounce or six-plant exception to marijuana outlawry). Nor is the chief significance that in another state the people themselves recognized that marijuana is medicine, despite the exact contrary legislative finding of the U.S. Congress in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
After all, these new constitutional and voter-initiative changes in state law only legalized a teensy, weensy, itsy bitsy shot of marijuana, a toke hardly big enough to bring on a cough. No, the significance is not that, especially when we live in a world where prohibited drugs are seized by law-enforcers by the tons.
First, the Election Day marijuana- approval is significant because the results dramatize the gigantic chasm between existing U.S. federal law and the will of the people, a chasm so huge that the whole world lies between the people and the government. The people want marijuana legal but federal law makes it illegal. The people know that marijuana helps people with serious medical conditions but the people’s representatives in the U.S. Congress say it doesn’t.
People do not obey or respect laws so askew with their thoughts and desires, even if government fills its prisons with their family members, neighbors and disproportionately minorities. The law stinks more than the marijuana.
Secondly, the Election Day marijuana approval is significant because it presents a huge opportunity for the Obama Administration to begin righting our federal drug laws that mistakenly treat drug use as a criminal problem rather than a health problem. The U.S. recovered from the same mistake with alcohol, and it can do the same with illicit drugs starting with marijuana, marijuana regulated by state law rather than federal law. Let’s all hope the recovery is soon — not because drugs are good but because drug war is worse.
James E. Gierach