Marijuana

Despite All Issue 3's Flaws, It Felt GREAT Voting for Legal Pot in Ohio

It will feel even better the next time around with the full force of a 58 percent majority moving on from one of the great failures of the past 100 years.

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The Ohio ballot initiative known as Issue 3 would have legalized recreational marijuana while creating 10 state-regulated growing areas. It has gone down to dismal defeat, barely pulling one-third of votes despite state-wide polls showing that a robust majority (58 percent!) of Ohio adults believe pot should be legal.

My colleague Jacob Sullum has explained some of the reasons why Issue 3 tanked yesterday and I pointed to similar misgivings in my pre-election piece "Why I'm Voting For Pot Legalization (Issue 3) in Ohio." Most obviously, the state-created production cartel seemed to function like electoral paraquat even to voters who were otherwise in favor of legalization.

I've explained why I voted for Issue 3 despite its faults and I don't need to rehash my reasons again.

What I wanted to share was the sheer feeling of elation in actually getting to vote for legalizing marijuana, a substance I haven't used in years and don't plan to take up again any time soon. When I started working at Reason in 1993, medical marijuana legalization in California was still years away (as was the passage of an even more radical initiative in Arizona that ended up getting gutted by legislative and legal action).

Over the past two-plus decades, there has been immense movement on the pot issue and there's no doubt that legal marijuana everywhere is a matter of when, not if. There will be legalization measures next year on the ballot in close to a dozen states and the legislatures of Vermon and Rhode Island may end prohibition on their own. As those of you whose lives have been disrupted by the war on drugs can tell you, this can't happen soon enough.

I'm not naive enough to believe that my vote (or anyone else's) counts in the sense that it will decide a given election, even as it's clear that votes in one way or another add up. I tend to vote more as an act of personal expression (hence, an unbroken record of never having voted for a winning candidate at any level).

But goddammit, it felt great to be voting for the end of one of the dumbest and most destructive policy disasters ever undertaken by the United States. The war on drugs—and especially the war on pot—encapsulates virtually everything that libertarians find repulsive and intrusive about government and moral crusades. Is there anything as misguided as arresting 700,000 people a year on pot charges? The drug war eviscerates rights to speech, assembly, privacy, protection from search and seizures, and more, always all in the sure-to-fail effort attempt to protect people from literally changing their minds as they see fit.

When I first showed up at Reason in the early '90s, the Berlin Wall had been reduced to rubble only a few years earlier and the ruins of the Soviet Empire were still smoldering. It was a time when massive, radical, liberating change was in the air but even then I don't think I ever really believed that pot would be legalized in my lifetime. To be optimistic on something like that was to invite dark clouds and live forever in a funk of foregone freedom.

As good as it felt to vote for Issue 3, I'm sure it will feel even better the next time around, with a better measure on the ballot and the full force of a 58 percent majority of Ohioans (and Americans!) moving on from one of the great failures of the past 100 years. But here's hoping that I'm writing a very different post this time next year—and that you all will have had the same experience of voting down dumb, dumb prohibition. The martyrs of the drug war will remain buried in unmarked graves and the prosecutors will go unpunished, but will we forget the past in order to be from of its shackles.

In 2012, I was lucky enough to participate in an Intelligence Squared debate on the question of whether drugs should be legalized (other participants include Georgetown Law's and former prosecutor Paul Butler, the great writer and prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple, and former drug czar Asa Hutchinson). It's a pretty great show and contains just about every argument in favor of and against prohibition (which is why, I submit, the legalization side carried the motion). My comments begin at 25 minutes with this statement:

You've heard from a self-described soldier in the drug war [Butler], you've heard from a former general…and commander in the drug war [Hutchinson], and you'll hear from a medic in the drug war [Dalrymple]. I present myself simply as a conscientious objector in the war on drugs….

Using drugs is not immoral and it's not "addictive" for 99 percent of people. There's nothing wrong with it or to be ashamed of….

That moral statement may ultimately be the rock upon which legalization must stand. From it proceeds a host of related propositions, all of which lead to a freer world in which individuals are also more responsible, which is exactly how it should be.

But it's also true that pragmatic arguments matter, especially those that show the world will not end and the heavens will not fall if pot is made legal (look west, young folks, to Colorado!). During my remarks, I make the case that the war on drugs is effectively a war on pot, since that's the  illicit" drug that is most widely used and hence preoccupies law enforcement efforts. Marijuana is the lynchpin to the whole operation, which helps explain why so many prohibitionists will fight to the last joint in trying to stop legalization. And why the battle to finally legalize pot will not come easy.

Watch below and go here for more info and links.

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  1. What I wanted to share was the sheer feeling of elation in actually getting to vote for legalizing marijuana…

    It’s a placebo effect.

  2. If it feels good, do it!

    Where have I heard that before?

  3. “one of the great failures of the past 100 years”

    I know, right? It makes Britain’s Dardanelles campaign look like a minor boo-boo in comparison.

    1. Wonder what the relative body counts are, anyway?

    2. I think he is referring to the war on drugs generally. I think that accurately describes it.

    3. As in 1868, none of us has any clue whether the initiative passed or not. There is no way, in a “secret” ballot machine election controlled by “both” parties, to verify is any given vote was counted as cast. To them, as to all Nixon-law backers, anything that excludes the LP is a win-win outcome.

  4. As I said before: libertarians that opposed this because ‘cronyism!’ are the problem with the movement.

    1. I dunno, C. Strikes me as a very close call. I got no problem with either take, really.

      I probably would have voted for it, but I shed no tears that it failed.

  5. Thanks for making me feel slightly better about our defeat. “electoral paraquat” – you caused a little spit-take with that one, thanks again.

  6. In Nick’s terms, I voted yes on both Issue 2 and 3 as an act of personal expression. Yes, I think weed should be legal, and yes – go screw yourself, marijuana-cartel-wannabees, for trying to insert your little monopoly into the state constitution. Man, that irritated me no end.

    Doubtful that this is the end in Ohio – when even the hardass Hamilton County (Cincinnati) head prosecutor comes out in favor of legalization, times have changed.

  7. I searched the election results in the linked Ohio newspaper (amid obnoxious pop-ups), and the search returned this:
    “No matching races or candidates found for libertarian”
    That explains a lot abt the fake hemp-cartel election hustle.

  8. Is anyone surprised that Nick felt great as he voted for cronyism?

    Apparently getting just the appearance of something libertarians want is worth all the anti-liberty action any legislation can cause.

    I bet Nick would’ve felt great as he voted to abrogate the rights of business owners in Houston as well–wait, I meant to say ‘voted to expand statist interference into private life’–wait, oh yeah, ‘voted for the HERO act’.

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  10. Style Over Substance?
    We thought you were better than that, Nick!

  11. Because I (erroneously) thought that Reagan would bring back the draft, I voted for Carter in 1980 – the only mainstream candidate I ever voted for. So I’m happy to know that I’m in the same boat as Gillespie also with an unbroken record of never having voted for a winning candidate at any level.

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