Back in May I wrote in that one day, when marijuana prohibition is history and responsible adult marijuana users no longer live in fear of arrest, we may look back on 2008 as one our most pivotal years.
Well, maybe not, but thanks to voters and advocates across the country, this Election Day turned out to be one of the greatest in the history of marijuana policy reform, and certainly the most significant of this decade.
Most notably, voters in Massachusetts and Michigan passed two landmark MPP-sponsored ballot initiatives, rejecting some of the most dishonest, inflammatory opposition we've ever seen in the process.
In Massachusetts, voters clearly understood that the current consequences for small marijuana offenses far exceed the violation itself, to the benefit of nobody. Now adults caught with an ounce or less of marijuana will no longer be treated like criminals. Instead, they'll simply have their marijuana confiscated and receive a civil fine of $100, much like a traffic violation. And then they'll move on with their lives: no arrest, no lawyers, no criminal record, no loss of job, educational opportunities, access to federal student aid, or any other collateral sanctions.
And, by Harvard economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron's calculations, Massachusetts taxpayers will save an estimated $29 million a year in law enforcement costs as well.
Meanwhile, Michigan became the 13th state – and the first in the Midwest – with a good, effective medical marijuana law. That means one in four Americans now live in a state that protects patients who use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation from the threat of arrest.
Both campaigns faced fierce opposition from defenders of our wasteful, impotent war on marijuana users and its terrible consequences both to individuals and to our society.
In Massachusetts, all 11 district attorneys, the bulk of Massachusetts's law enforcement leadership, and a number of mayors and other elected leaders waged a desperate campaign against reform.
They were everywhere: In the op-ed pages of the major newspapers warning that children would take the new law as an invitation to use marijuana; lined up, in uniform, at press conferences spinning tales of violent drug dealers setting up shop with impunity; in TV and radio ads ominously suggesting some dark, hidden agenda by advocates and their backers.
What they lacked, however, were facts, and the voters saw right through the manipulation.
The circumstances were much the same in Michigan. Opponents attempted to frighten voters with the specter of California – an apparently godless, moral wasteland in which "pot shops" often outnumber Starbucks (they really said that), and little old ladies and children live in constant fear of unruly hippies (seriously, check it out: http://www.nopotshops.com/).
To ensure they weren't being too subtle, drug czar John Walters and his deputy, Scott Burns, campaigned in the state – at taxpayers' expense – carting around a medical marijuana vending machine they had snatched from a dispensary in California.
Bear in mind, the Michigan ballot initiative didn't even allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. But I suppose, in the minds of opponents, that's nitpicking.
But once again, the drug warriors misread the voters. Michiganders weren't interested in scare tactics; they were interested in passing sensible, compassionate policy.
For some insight on just how popular these initiatives were, and how ineffective the opponents' scare tactics were, consider this: Although Barack Obama carried both states, he received less support than either marijuana ballot initiative did. In Massachusetts, the marijuana decriminalization initiative received 65 percent of the vote, while Obama received 62 percent. In Michigan, medical marijuana received 63 percent of the vote; the president-elect received 55 percent.
And these weren't the only two states that saw marijuana policy reforms on Election Day. Reform initiatives in communities in Arkansas, Hawaii, Massachusetts and California all passed overwhelmingly, as well. (You can see the details here: http://www.mpp.org/library/2008-ballot-initiatives.html.)
Clearly, we still have a long, long way to go to end this cruel, stupid war on marijuana users. But make no mistake. What we saw this year – the overwhelming support for reform by the voters and the incredible energy and dedication of advocates – could well be the shift in momentum we've worked towards for so many years.
Here's to more, bigger victories for sensible reform in the coming years. Congratulations to everybody. And thank you.