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.