The Marijuana Rebellion

State ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing pot pose a new challenge to prohibition.

By the time the 21st Amendment ended national alcohol prohibition in December 1933, more than a dozen states had already opted out. Maryland never passed its own version of the Volstead Act, while New York repealed its alcohol prohibition law in 1923. Eleven other states eliminated their statutes by referendum in November 1932.

We could see the beginning of a similar rebellion against marijuana prohibition this year as voters in three states—Washington, Colorado, and Oregon—decide whether to legalize the drug's production and sale for recreational use. If any of these ballot initiatives pass, it might be the most consequential election result this fall, forcing both major parties to confront an unjust, irrational policy that Americans increasingly oppose.

With six weeks to go before Election Day, Oregon's Measure 80, which would establish a commission charged with licensing growers and selling marijuana through state-run stores, seems to be in trouble. In a SurveyUSA poll this month, only 37 percent of respondents said they planned to vote yes, while 41 percent were opposed and 22 percent were undecided.

But the other two initiatives are polling strongly. According to a SurveyUSA poll conducted two weeks ago, 57 percent of Washington voters favor Initiative 502, which would authorize private pot stores regulated by the state liquor commission; only 34 percent were opposed. A SurveyUSA poll completed on September 12 found that 51 percent of Colorado voters support Amendment 64, which would allow home cultivation of up to six plants and create a licensing system for growers and retailers; 40 percent were opposed.

Neither of these measures is a sure thing by any means. California's Proposition 19, a marijuana legalization measure that was ultimately supported by 47 percent of voters in November 2010, polled above 50 percent in several surveys. But while the SurveyUSA approval number for Proposition 19 peaked at 56 percent in April 2010, dropping to 47 percent by September, support for the Washington and Colorado initiatives appears to be growing.

In the Colorado survey, supporters outnumbered opponents in every age group except respondents 65 or older, and Amendment 64 was ahead by 30 percentage points among respondents younger than 35. These generational differences are clear in national survey data as well. In a 2011 Gallup poll, 62 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds supported marijuana legalization, compared to 31 percent of respondents in the 65-and-up group.

Overall support for legalization in the Gallup survey was the highest it has ever been: 50 percent, compared to 12 percent in 1969 and the mid-to-high 20s during the Carter administration, which was later viewed as an especially pot-tolerant period. A May Rasmussen survey put current support even higher: 56 of respondents said marijuana should be treated like alcohol, making pot legalization more popular than Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Rising support for legalizing marijuana parallels increasing experience with the drug. The federal government's survey data indicate that most American adults born after World War II have tried pot, an experience especially common among people now in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

That does not mean all these people are current marijuana consumers, eager for the lower prices, convenience, quality, and variety promised by a legal market. But they, along with their friends and relatives, have had enough direct and indirect experience with cannabis to decide that prohibition costs more than it's worth.

As The Seattle Times observed in a recent editorial endorsing Initiative 502, "The question for voters is not whether marijuana is good. It is whether prohibition is good." The voices rejecting prohibition in Washington and Colorado include city council members, state legislators, former U.S. attorneys, clergymen, retired cops, and two national police organizations—a hard group to dismiss as a bunch of silly potheads, which is President Obama's usual approach to the issue.

If voters approve marijuana legalization in one or more states this November, that contemptuous attitude will no longer be tenable, no matter who wins the presidential election.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The polling will end up meaning nothing, as California's Prop 19 suggests. Has any state's marijuana legalization ballot initiative ever passed? I'm not saying it's never going to happen, but it's not going to happen any time soon. More VOTERS don't want it than do.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Not only that, it won't matter if they did since Federal LE will absolutely just fill in the vacuum of enforcement when state or lower LE stop enforcement. And no state will have the balls to tell them to shove off.

  • robc||

    No state?

    I expect at least one will. Maybe not WA or CO.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    If Texas was for legal mj, they'd stand up to the Feds, but I think we're still decades away from sanity here...

  • Duncan20903||

    I find that hard to believe after watching Arizona authorities run for the safety of the Federal governments apron strings WRT their medicinal cannabis patient protection laws.

    Regardless, the Feds don't have the resources to enforce their law without the help of the States. But I-502 in Washington appears to be a lock so I guess we'll see.

  • Thomas O.||

    Considering the fact that state constitutional amendments require approval by 2/3 of both legislative houses before it can even see the light of day in a popular vote, and the fact that most of our legislators are religious conservatives - oh yeah, and the gay-marriage ban passed with 70 PERCENT approval by the voters - it may be a full fucking CENTURY or two.

    As much as I'd love to exile myself from this otherwise wonderful state, I'm not going to uproot or abandon my family to do so.

  • Vapourwear||

    Exactly, expecting all those hipsters in Boulder to actually DO something? God, I hope they prove me wrong.

  • Loki||

    "You mean I'll have to get up before noon and then go stand in line somewhere for who knows how long when I could be sitting in a cafe sipping a fair trade latte smugly bloviating just loud enough for passers-by to here about some obscure literature and the indie band I went and saw play last weekend? Fuck that." /stupid hipster

  • Loki||

    I can only speak for myself, but I fully intend to vote for ammendment 64 here in CO. Unless I get high and forget how to get to the polling place. I keed, I keed.

  • Zeb||

    I'm sure the feds will up their enforcement in states that legalize, but no way they fill the void of state and local police enforcement. They'll do enough to keep everyone a little scared, but I'm sure your typical person growing a few plants (if that is allowed under the proposed new law) won't have much to worry about. Stop being so negative. At least it will be interesting to see this tested.

  • Thomas O.||

    "More VOTERS don't want it than do."

    Translation: "That only demographic still opposing it (over 65) generally shows up at the polling places in greater numbers than the other age groups, so if that still holds true, those propositions won't pass."

    As much as I would love to see at least ONE state buck the status quo and approve MJ legalization (not to mention a ballot-box gay marriage legalization), I'll believe it when I see it.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    On a personal note, I'm now not voting in November. Turns out I have to buy a stamp for my absentee ballot (last time I voted was in 2000 and I didn't have to buy a stamp), so they can cram it.

  • Vapourwear||

    Really? Sounds like an "absentee poll tax" to me.

  • entropy||

    Do you live in Colorado? If so, get over your asshole self and find a stamp.

    If not, carry on.

  • godzleaf||

    Never say never. I smell victory!

  • Drake||

    I favor legalization and I have never smoked pot in my life. The people I've seen pushing for legalization (other than Reason) are doing it wrong. They already have the pot smokers, so don't bother talking about the pot itself.

    Appeal to conservatives by talking about the cost and the waste of enforcement. The cost of incarcerating people who have done nothing to harm anyone. The militarization of police forces and the collateral damage they do with botched raids. The erosion of Constitution rights so police can no-knock search at will.

    Point at the strident prohibitionist and compare their zeal to the ones we had a century earlier - who also failed to accomplish anything except making Al Capone a household name.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    But..but...Robert Stack in a fedora and trenchcoat looked so cool!

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The War On Drugs is the primary excuse for the comprehensive trashing of so many of our civil rights. People interested in legalization should hit that and hit it HARD.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    The constitution? Isn't that the living document both parties are doing their best to kill (or atleast maim)? I sincerely hope sanity returns to governance of the US, but drug warriors will tear the house down before they admit their fix is worse than the malfunction. And other analogies....

  • Agile Cyborg||

    People interested in legalization should hit that and hit it HARD.

    In my experience there are very few people in free societies concerned about civil rights as a broad conceptual aspect of freedom. 'Rights' tend to be formulated from specific personal comfort derived from environmental/socialization factors. The person in our 'free' society who believes in rights without hypocritical stances surrounding them is not common which is largely why the struggle against authoritarianism is so incessant even within the boundaries of so-called open society.

    For example, around this area there exists a front-yard sign movement shrilly demanding that religious freedom be protected. RELIGIOUS freedom. Not FREEDOM- which incorporates religion and everything else related to adult choice. In this illustration freedom is specific to a narrow interpretation which is actually anathema to the framework that describes pure civil liberty.

    In the minds of most freedom-loving Americans being 'free' is defined simplistically with the erasure of freedoms that cannot be condoned under strict moral interpretations. Liberty is castrated and formed into a pleasant, non-offending eunuch fitting within a prescribed role.

  • Publilius||

    ^^ THIS ^^. That's been my experience, too.

  • Ptah-Hotep||

    Appeal to conservatives by talking about the cost and the waste of enforcement. The cost of incarcerating people ... The militarization of police forces ... The erosion of Constitution rights so police can no-knock search at will.

    Most conservatives I know* see these as positives. Because of the kids and the dangers of drugs. They do not see the botched raids as problems of the police, but the scum dealers.

    *I am sure not all conservatives feel the same way. Anecdotal evidence and all.

  • Eric||

    You forget yourself. Conservatives like big government as much as liberals. And jackbooted DEA agents kicking in doors of filthy hippies is what conservatives like best about government.

    If you want to appeal to conservatives, you'll somehow have to contort a pro MJ argument into: "America-Fuck-Yeah" or "Muslims-Are-Evil". They love that kind of shit.

  • entropy||

    Legalization is needed to end the outsourcing of drug production to Mexico and bring back our jerbs!

  • jway||

    American taxpayers are being forced to pay $40 Billion a year for a prohibition that causes 10,000 brutal murders 800,000 needless arrests each year, but which doesn't even stop CHILDREN from getting marijuana.

    After seventy years of prohibition, it's obvious that the federal marijuana prohibition causes FAR more harm than good and must END! Drug Dealers Don't Card, Supermarkets Do.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    Yeah, but all that only happens to other people and republicans promised me a tax cut next year...

  • Cdr Lytton||

    So WA voters just voted to move liquor out from under the state ever so slightly, and now they're going to put pot squarely under the liquor control board? Is that progress, really?

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    ^^THIS times a jillion

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Is that progress, really?

    Ever so true, BUT you have to remember what allowed liquor to move from being an immoral prancing demon in the eyes of the broad interventionist public: making the godish (fauxword, yes) state oversee distribution. This way the conscience of the moral majority (which included Lefties) was appeased slightly.

    If weed has to follow the same process so millions of undeserving-of-liberty morons can feel a remote sense of control then so be it. At least the honest toker doesn't have to worry about the fucking nazis-for-goodness busting down his/her door, killing grandma and the dog, and fist-bumping their ass-fisters whilst destroying interiors for a fucking adrenalin hit because they grew up ugly and unwanted or jockish and braindead.

  • naql||

    Firatly, I'll believe it when I see it, there's too much federal swag and booty being doled out to local police forces from the feds, too much bureaucracy with a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. Especially in CO, Coors country.

    Secondly, the only argument that appeals to politicians is to their greed, but any law that says I can't grow my own and smoke it without some government tax or tag means that I will remain a scofflaw.

    I'm not interested in medical marijuana, the reason to legalize it is because the current prohibition is immoral. "Regulating" and "taxing" something that I do for myself in the privacy of my own home is still meddling where they don't belong.

  • ||

    Oregon's Measure 80, which would establish a commission charged with licensing growers and selling marijuana through state-run stores

    God would it be the ultimate height of hilarity if that passed with libertarian support.

    Which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. Reason is much more pro-stoner than they are pro-freedom on this particular issue. I've never touched pot (or any other recreational drugs) in my life, and the only thing that gives me pause about supporting legalization is the stigma it carries thanks to morons like the Reason editors who aren't content to simply make reasonable arguments about the futility and immorality of prohibition, but must also take on the role of apologist for every pot smoker who ever toked and lionize their behavior as if it were some moral pinnacle every person should strive for (anymore than alcoholism is).

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