The Difference Between Legalization and Freedom

In every election that has featured a statewide marijuana legalization initiative since California’s Prop 19 in 2010, there have been cannabis consumers who oppose the opportunity to end their criminality. There is always some justification—the proposal will only benefit rich investors, the home growing setup is inadequate, whatever—but there is one rationale that just doesn’t meet the basic standard of fact:

“This isn’t what I call legalization!”

Legalization is a word defined by Wikipedia as “the process of removing a legal prohibition against something which is currently not legal,” and Merriam-Webster says it means “to make legal; especially: to give legal validity or sanction to.”

Is marijuana legal where you live? No? Would an initiative make marijuana legal where you are? Yes? Then it is marijuana legalization.

That’s not up for debate. It’s a simple matter of understanding a transitive verb in the English language.

Some will quibble:

“There’s no amount of beer I can possess that is illegal! This legalization only legalizes an ounce! Therefore, two ounces is illegal and thus, this isn’t legalization!”

The limit argument is irrelevant. One ounce was illegal before, one ounce is illegal after. It is marijuana legalization of at least one ounce. They can argue it isn’t legalization of enough marijuana, but they can’t argue that it isn’t marijuana legalization.

Functionally, legalization of even an ounce of marijuana changes the relationship the possessor has with police from a criminal to a citizen. That cops’ K-9 or your weed smell can’t be an excuse to shake you down, unless it’s completely obvious that you’re possessing way more than an ounce. Charges for all marijuana crimes dropped almost two-thirds in Washington and four-fifths in Colorado after legalization (and even more in Colorado, thanks to home grow). That’s all charges—not just the ounce that was legalized because cops’ can no longer use the smell of weed as probable cause.

Maybe the marijuana legalization proposal doesn’t create the ideal commercial marijuana setup. That will lead some to complain that “it’s not true marijuana legalization!”

But how the legal product is regulated and sold doesn’t change the fact that the product is legal. If there is legal buying and selling of marijuana, you’ve legalized marijuana commerce. They can complain that it’s not the right way to legalize marijuana commerce, but they can’t argue that it isn’t marijuana legalization.

The confusion comes from those people mistaking “freedom” for “legalization.”

As the definition said, legalization is a process. It’s not an end-point.

Marijuana is legal in four states, but someday, it will be legal in more states. Eventually, through the process of legalization, we will reach the point of freedom where cannabis consumers are subject to no artificial limits on personal use and cultivation, face no baseless discrimination in employment and driving, and have every opportunity to participate in cannabis commerce.

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