Cannabis Column: Legalization After the Election

Various legalization initiatives were successfully presented to voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia on Tuesday, November 4. The results are important, both historically and practically, but do not change the current challenge in legalizing marijuana throughout the United States.

The success of these measures is exciting and encouraging for the legalization movement, but it also revitalizes the opposition. For years, prohibitionists really did not have anything to rally around, a reason to get the public to take them seriously. Now they can point to the green tide of reform and use it to devise new ways to alarm the public about the evil threat of marijuana.

Anti-pot hysteria lost its focus over the last decade or so as marijuana reform gained public support. The consequences of the fading power of reefer madness were not too alarming. Arrests, after all, continued at record levels. Indeed, from 2008 to 2012 arrests rose annually in a third of the country. The most significant changes to state laws had to do with medical use, and as horrible as that was for the anti-pot crowd, it did not change the big picture.

Marijuana’s legalization in Colorado and Washington changed that. It took the opposition a while to reinvent themselves, but they will use the results of this last round of defeats to raise funds, mobilize allies and otherwise re-energize opposition to further reform. Why? Because while they lost the battle when it comes to making America afraid of marijuana, they now get a fresh start and a second chance. The goal of opponents of reform is to make Americans fear marijuana legalization.

The most popular version of this new approach to sustaining prohibition is the campaign to make Americans wary of Big Marijuana and the oncoming corporate onslaught of efforts to sell addiction. This strategy tries to sell America on the idea that marijuana is like tobacco and consequently legalization will produce a new tobacco industry dedicated to selling pot to school children. The actual pharmacological differences between marijuana and tobacco are obscured, if not ignored, and one of the goals of this approach is to repackage as many disproven claims about marijuana as possible; It’s dangerously addictive, it really is harmful to everyone who tries it and legalization advocates are all deluded or outright liars.

The strangest idea advanced by today’s neo-prohibitionists is that the country is better off with a large unregulated black market than it would be under a regulated legal market. This proposition appears in two forms. First, there is the delusion that the option before the public is a legal marijuana market or no marijuana market. That somehow the opposite of legalization is a world in which marijuana is not available to anyone. Second, there is the common assertion that the only problem with legalization is that it will reduce the price of marijuana, making the drug’s use less expensive and therefore more widespread. In other words, criminal profiteers are doing the public a favor by keeping the price of marijuana high. Both prongs of this position insist that the status quo is preferable to a legal market with age limits, reasonable taxes and accurately labeled products.

The new reefer madness will rise from the ashes of the failed opposition of the past. There will be stories of negative consequences from legalization in Colorado, Washington and the new jurisdictions that follow. Anecdotes of horrible consequences will be constructed, new claims about the dangers of marijuana use will emerge and the specter of the whole nation going to pot will be exploited to raise considerable funds to oppose future legalization efforts.

The success stories in marijuana law reform in recent years have been the result of hard working grass-roots level activists, savvy strategizing by professional political activists and considerable financial support from a few farsighted wealthy individuals. It hasn’t been easy, but it doesn’t get any easier after this. Now, after the elections of November 2014, the path to national legalization will be rockier, more challenging and harder to advance on than ever before.

The greatest opportunity to legalize marijuana in the United States will occur over the next ten years. The success or failure of the legalization movement to achieve this goal will depend on one thing, and one thing alone. It’s not grass roots activity, it’s not the ability of political operatives and it’s not a matter of raising money. The movement has all of this, and these resources are bound to grow over the coming years. There is one more element needed to make this a force that wins, a force that makes history.

From this day on the success or failure of marijuana’s legalization depends on voter registration, and especially on the registration and voting activity of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. If you want to legalize marijuana and you are not registered to vote – register to vote. If you want to legalize marijuana and you are registered to vote, vote. If you want to legalize marijuana and you vote, keep voting. Vote in every election you can and vote for candidates and political parties that support changing America’s drug laws, support an end to prohibition and support marijuana’s legalization.

And take every opportunity to tell candidates and elected officials that you are registered, that you vote and that you vote to support reform.

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