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Radical Rant: The Berlin Wall of Prohibition Falls Tonight

Russ Belville

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One night, so long ago that I still had hair, I was a witness to history. But I was so young I didn’t fully appreciate the ramifications of what I was seeing.

It was 27 years ago tomorrow—November 9, 1989—and I was a bass player in a band called Class-X. I was just 21 years old, playing covers of ‘60s and ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll with a group of guys in their forties. We had finished playing a gig in Glenns Ferry, Idaho (Motto: We dont need no stinkin apostrophes!), and I ended up getting home at around three in the morning.

I had slugged a few coffees to make the drive, so I was still quite wired. I was still eight months away from smoking my first joint, so I wasn’t going to be getting to sleep any time soon. I turned on the television for no real reason, because this was still 1989 and there would be nothing meaningful on.

And there was NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw, standing at the Brandenburg Gate, as scores of young Germans stood atop the Berlin Wall.

Wait. The Berlin Wall? I sat transfixed on the images. They’re tearing down the Berlin Wall!

The Berlin Wall was as permanent a fixture in my young world as the internet is to a 27 year old today. Can you imagine a world before the internet? Neither could I imagine a world without the Berlin Wall. It was constructed seven years before I was born.

And there it was, being torn down.

As walls go, it wasn’t so great, at least by Chinese wall standards. It just isolated West Berlin with 96 miles of wall, wholly inside of East Germany. Almost 70 miles of that wall separated East and West Berlin.

But as a symbol, that wall represented the entire Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union that preceded my birth by two decades.

There were important moments that led to the fall of the wall. President Reagan had challenged, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” just two years’ prior. Hungary had relaxed its border with Austria in August, setting forth waves of East German refugees.

But it was that wall falling that signified the beginning of the end.

When the Berlin Wall fell, the entire Cold War was not far behind. By Christmas of 1991, the Soviet hammer-and-sickle flew over the Kremlin for the last time. We had entered a whole new world.

That’s how big tonight’s Marijuana Election Night is to the Drug War.

We’ve had our Reagan speech when Colorado and Washington legalized in 2012. 

We’ve had our refugee wave as Oregon and Alaska followed suit in 2014.

Now, we legalize marijuana in California, and hopefully, four other states, but it’s California’s legalization that is our Fall of the Berlin Wall.

After tonight, everything changes.

No matter where you stand on any of the state marijuana initiatives, bask in the history tonight. Nine states are simultaneously offering a hearty one-finger salute to federal marijuana prohibition.

There’s no recovery for the drug warriors after tonight.

After tonight throughout the United States, it’s not a matter of whether we should legalize marijuana, but when and how.

(And I get to be Tom Brokaw! Join me live from Los Angeles at the Drug Policy Action Prop 64 Watch Party. Laura Bianchi and I will bring you six hours of live coverage of Marijuana Election Night 2016. Tune in to CannabisRadio.com and follow the hashtag #MJElectionNight.)

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