Legal Marijuana Is Becoming the Norm

The case for full legalization becomes stronger-and more politically acceptable-all the time.


Albin Lohr-Jones/Polaris/Newscom

The war on drugs has been going on since 1971, and we have a winner: marijuana. Back then, possession of pot carried heavy penalties in many states—even life imprisonment. Today, 29 states sanction medical use of cannabis, and eight allow recreational use. Legal weed has become about as controversial as Powerball.

One sign of the shift came in Wednesday's debate among the Democrats running for governor of Illinois. The state didn't get its first medical marijuana dispensary until 2015, and it decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot only last year. But most of the candidates endorsed legalization of recreational weed, and one supported "full decriminalization."

Those positions are not politically risky, in Illinois or in most places. They're mainstream.

In 2016, Gallup Poll found that 60 percent of Americans supported full legalization—up from 36 percent in 2005. Given the choice, voters generally favor it. Nine states had cannabis initiatives on the ballot last year. Medical marijuana won in four states, and recreational pot won in another four. Only Arizona's recreational pot measure failed.

Next year should further erode pot prohibition. "Campaigns are underway in at least five states to legalize either medical or recreational cannabis," reports Marijuana Business Daily. It also notes that New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont could get recreational cannabis through legislative action.

All this progress has occurred even though federal law bars possession and use—impeding normal commerce in states that permit dispensaries. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department chose to defer to states that allowed cannabis. But banks generally are leery of doing business with pot dispensaries, forcing many to operate on cash alone.

As a candidate, Donald Trump indicated he would follow more or less the same course as Obama. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, has been an implacable opponent of liberalization. He once joked—well, I assume he was joking—that he had no problem with the Ku Klux Klan until he "found out they smoked pot."

He appointed a task force on crime, hoping it would confirm his preposterous claim that Obama's laissez-faire policy was to blame for rising violence. But the panel report, which has not been made public, recommended sticking with that approach.

The case for full legalization becomes stronger all the time. One reason is that the disproportionate impact on African-Americans has gained more attention. Blacks are nearly four times likelier to be arrested for pot possession than whites even though there is no racial difference in usage.

Drug enforcement has been a major motive for stop-and-frisk tactics that have fostered resentment of cops among black men. Treating cannabis like beer or cigarettes would greatly curtail such encounters.

For years, opponents said legalization would lead to disaster. But as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. noted, "A page of history is worth a volume of logic." We no longer have to rely on ominous forecasts. We now have actual experience in states that have taken the leap, and the results refute the fears.

Studies show that after Colorado permitted recreational pot, there was no increase in adolescent use or traffic fatalities. In Washington, which voted for legalization in 2012, crime rates proceeded to decline. California found that when medical dispensaries closed, neighborhood crime didn't fall; it rose.

This year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found "substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults." That helps explains why states that allow cannabis have far lower rates of opioid overdoses. The simple reality is that marijuana eases suffering and saves lives.

States with fiscal problems—Illinois being a prominent example—also stand to gain from allowing recreational pot. First, they don't have to spend so much money arresting, trying, and incarcerating users and sellers. Second, they get a windfall from taxing a product that previously sold only on the black market. Washington's cannabis taxes bring in about $250 million a year.

State governments can also expect savings in Medicaid and other health care programs as some patients opt for inexpensive cannabis over pricey prescription drugs. There are also financial savings for ambulances, hospitals, and morgues when fewer people overdose with opioids—not to mention a lower toll in human misery and heartache.

It's too late to undo all the harm produced by the war on drugs. But Americans are realizing it's never too late to enjoy the benefits of peace.


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  1. "The war on drugs has been going on since 1784"


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      1. I nominate War on Spam as the replacement moral equivalent of war. Portugal (remember Portugal?) decriminalized everything 14 years ago and the economy is thriving compared to National Socialist Europe. Howcum nobody mentions decriminalization and how it affected Portugal?

    2. Latest Gallup poll has support for legalization at 64%. And for Republicans the number is 51%.

  2. "But as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. noted, 'Three generations of imbeciles are enough, and also you can't shout fire in a theater.'"

    FTFY #2

    1. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted, I Got the Power (NSFW).

      1. This was one of the darkest times in our country's history.

  3. "The case for full legalization becomes stronger all the time. One reason is that the disproportionate impact on African-Americans has gained more attention from DNC nomenklatura desperate to promote turnout in the very same black communities they spent the last 50 years rigorously enforcing said laws in."

    FTFY #3

  4. OK, great!

    So when will Jeff Sessions be fired?

    1. Not soon enough.

    2. Never. He will resign when his new gig as a keebler elf comes through and not one moment sooner.

    3. Be careful what you wish for. You might end up with Joe Arpaio playing the part of US Attorney General.

      1. Gotta be better than Janet "I made my bones putting innocent people away in the childcare abuse witch hunt" Reno.

        1. Ahh yes, the Wenatchee Witch Hunt. It wasn't really Janet's fault, but she did cowardly refuse to intervene in the horrible affair.

  5. It's too late to undo all the harm produced by the war on drugs.

    No, it's not. Our government can (and must) make restitution to anyone ever?and release immediately anyone presently?incarcerated solely on drug-related charges. The counterproductive, needless, expensive, and immoral drug war has heaped misery upon millions of innocents. Please don't suggest the damage it's done or the gross expansion of government it represents can't both be remedied.

    1. There should be Drug War Crime trials, with policy makers imprisoned and policy followers purged from law enforcement employment.

      1. Nuremburg, PA would be an appropriate venue.

        1. Interesting that you would reference Nuremburg. Do you remember from your readings that the only way that the world governments could justify the hanging of the few patsies they did after the war was to adjudicate that there is a "higher law" that State rules/"laws"?
          Of course this was quickly swept under the carpet for we can't have the masses believing in this "higher law" that the government courts recognized but didn't try to codify. Even the US Founders recognized "the law" (9th Amendment) or "the common law" however, due to the politics and religious beliefs of the times could not codify it.
          The simplist way I've ever seen it described is by Richard J Maybury in his little book "Whatever Happened to Justice, ie: "do all you have agreed to do and do not encroach on other persons or their property".
          Just for fun, imagine when "persons" is defined. If you are a person, and live within LAW, you can not be harmed by anyone or anything (including government or religion) without legal recourse!

      2. Again; while I understand the impulse, this is a REAL good way to get the Political Class fighting tooth and nail to keep pot illegal. Please, let's not go there.

    2. You want to extend the war on pot effectively forever? Demanding that kind of restitution is the way to do it.

    3. Or we can just give every drug war victim a unicorn to keep them company on their FTL spaceship; something equally as plausible given the definition of possible you seem to be using.

      The bigger problem with the implications of the article are the weight it's assigning to marijuana. It's an important first step to be sure, but not a decisive victory against the war on drugs. There is no "peace" as talked about, even if marijuana was treated like alcohol nationwide. Support for ending violent prohibition with long prison sentences for every other drug is still abysmal. People only support legal pot because it's virtually harmless; there's been no recognition that that doesn't matter and isn't why it should be legal. Peace after the war on drugs will require overcoming that "it's bad therefore it should be illegal" idiocy that infects 90% of people, who support it even though they recognize it's not working.

  6. Good things happen when society overcomes a moral panic, but marijuana users have been abused for decades.

    While the public's growing acceptance for legal weed is a good thing, it's not time to celebrate. There are countless lives that have been destroyed, at the hands of opportunistic politicians and law enforcement, in the process to get where we are now.

    Like an abusive parent who is "saving their children from themselves", it's time to take a long look at the awful repercussions of hysterica-induced control and abuse of other humans who are not directly harming anyone else, living their adult lives and making their own choices. The issue is serious and goes far beyond smoking weed, but the war on marijuana smokers is so emblematic of how delusional, hysterical attacks on people under the righteous guise of "saving" them from something, or themselves, victimizes generations and poisons decades of discourse.

  7. Legal weed has become about as controversial as Powerball.

    Not to crap on your point, but state sponsored lotteries are a terrible idea, FWIW.

    1. A tax on people who are bad at math.

  8. Logic and reality go over the heads of all trumpettes. The drug war is still happening in spits and spurts. All prohibitionists live in a fantasy land were they feel in control of everyone everywhere. Saint Happenin' will come first! These freaks need to be hospitalized for protection from their fantasies and the rest of use from their fantasies. Let freedom roll!

    1. As opposed to the imbeciles out in the streets, protesting Trump's 'facism' while wearing the likeness of Che, a mass murdering fascist torturer?

      Don't talk to me about Trump and illogic until the Democrat establishment starts taking their meds,K?

      1. This talk about hospitalization and "taking meds" touches on the very epitome of trying to save people from themselves. I realize neither was actually meant literally. But people who really believe in freedom should probably avoid such usages.

  9. one supported "full decriminalization"

    , whatever *that* is.

    1. That confused me too, but it could be that there are no penalties at all for possession, but commerce is still illegal. Which is stupid, but I think that is what they mean.

      The current definition of "decriminalization" is that you get a ticket for possession instead of actual crime stuff.

    2. Agreed! Normalization, not legalization. The federal government has NEVER had the authority nor autonomy to criminalize any drug.
      Law was lost in America 150 years ago.

  10. I frequently converse with people far more religious/conservative than I, and there is a great deal of suspicion surrounding most drug legalization, including pot.

    From babies addicted to drugs to the degradation of meth whores, other crime associated with addiction; you name it, there is a general motif of of needing to save people from themselves and drug use being a scourge to society, regardless of the evidence that prohibition makes things worse.

    I mention this as drug policy is being more relaxed that a media blitz of "pot babies" is likely to put the kibosh on saner drug policy.

    Think of the children is just as an effective rallying cry as ever.

    1. And, as ever, the real and imaginary threats to children need to be distinguished.

  11. Weed should be legal everywhere. Cops are stupid. MN wouldn't even allow sparklers on the 4th of July until a few years ago. MN sucks! Liberal wack jobs.

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  13. Wait until it's widely commercialized then the Left will oppose legalization. The same people involved in the anti-tobacco crusades are also largely in favor of smoking pot wherever you want. These types are already starting to get antsy in Colorado where legal drive-thru pot shops are the norm and owners advertise on radio and B&B pot farms are becoming as classy as Napa Valley wineries and the owners (who often sell shares) are making tons of money.

  14. What is difficult to "swallow" about the Reason articles on marijuana and the belief that it should be "legalized" or not is the FACT that NOWHERE in the Constitution can be found any concept that the government has the authority or autonomy to make any drug "illegal". Remember, it took a SUCCESSFUL Amendment process for the "officials" and do-gooders to make liquor against the "law". What has changed?
    Why do you not realize that the first 10 Amendments are what the government can NOT legislate, decree,or "rule" on? What is so difficult to understand about the LIMITS that these Amendments represent and that this was how they were presented all those years ago?
    The real kicker is why can't We The People realize and accept that the Oath of Office that the federal and state and local officials swear or affirm is a LEGAL AND BINDING CONTRACT with those they swear to? Also, just for fun, realize that this Oath is a CIVIL contract with the population and not some governmental contract that can be hidden behind all the governmental bullshit (politics) that these people seem intent on playing!

  15. Since SCOTUS stepped in to say enough states had same sex marriage that same sex marriage was the law of the land why haven't they stepped into say enough states of some sort of legal cannabis that it is no longer a DEA scheduled drug?

  16. The socialist gods, Woodrow Wilson and FDR, have their stinking socialist fingers in the drug war.

    Wilson signed the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914,and FDR signed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937.

    I shit on their socialist graves they are less than pieces of shit.

    1. Troll alert. Respond by clicking the link and you'llorry

  17. Congratulations to NORML are in order for leading the long and arduous battle for legalization.

  18. The Democrats did a replay of 1928. Their platform contained no repeal plank. Instead they offered to try to continue prohibitionism, ban coal, gasoline, guns, electricity... and tax air! So the prohibitionist mystical bigots handed them their pink slips from government jobs and paychecks. I'd bet dollars (if such a thing were legal) that the next Dem platform says way less about The End Is Nigh and more about repealing laws against vegetable matter. Dems should remember the 1932-48 vote counts after prohibition repeal.

  19. As long as other drugs remain illegal, the apparatus of the drug war remains intact, and the war mentality remains at the core of law enforcement, the only thing legalizing marijuana will accomplish will be to turn the full force of the drug war against other drug users. (In fact it's already happening. See "opioid epidemic/crisis/emergency") I confess I never could understand the mentality that finds excuses for drug prohibition in the first place, but to see it among people who have for so long suffered the lies and the excesses of the war themselves is simply unconscionable.

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