Free Minds & Free Markets

Recreational Pot Will Be Legal Just About Everywhere Soon

"When The New York Times says we should legalize marijuana, I think maybe I should re-evaluate my position," jokes Reason senior editor Jacob Sullum, who spoke with Reason TV about the remarkable evolution of national drug policy over the last 25 years.

During the "Just Say No!" years of the 1980s, less than a quarter of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana. Today, even presidential candidates eager to claim the legacy of drug warrior Ronald Reagan are relaxing their views on prohibition.

“When they repealed alcohol prohibition, it was left up to the states what to do with alcohol,” says Sullum. “And so you have most of the Republican presidential candidates saying the federal government should not interfere if the states want to legalize. That’s really an amazing development.”

Gallup.comGallup.comBy contrast, progressives have been critics of the war on drugs, he says. It's only when marijuana becomes an industry, run by capitalists, that the left get uneasy. Libertarians and progressives tend to spar over the nature of regulation of the drug business, not the need for or desirability of legalization itself.

In 2016, recreational marijuana reform may be on the ballot in nearly a dozen states and Sullum is optimistic. With support for recreational marijuana polling at a record-high 58 percent, it's only a question of how many states legalize in next year's elections.

Sullum believes that California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, is the best bet for passage and the most influential state in play. "There's a good shot it's going to pass. It's kind of surprising that California has not legalized marijuana by now," says Sullum, who is also the author of Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Usea nationally syndicated columnist, a drug-policy blogger at Forbes.

About 9 minutes. Produced and hosted by Todd Krainin. Thumbnail photo by Chuck Grimmett.

Related video: "How California Will Legalize Pot in 2016."

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  • gaoxiaen||

    Pennsylvania will be last.


    Second to last, right after Kansas.

  • YankeeLiberty||

    Yeah, why are East Coast liberals so conservative about pot? MA-NY-PA progressives are more uptight than rightish Western libertarians!

  • NYer||

    "MA-NY-PA progressives are more uptight than rightish Western libertarians!"

    Meh, its not that hard to be less uptight than New York Progressives. After all those rightish Western libertarians did legalize pot in Alaska last year and they may do the same in Arizona next year.

    And I got to disagree with the MA part, pot has been decriminalized and is legal for medical use down there. They also look like they might legalize next year:

    Contrast that with New Hampshire:
    The state's current Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan has opposed most efforts to even decriminalize small amounts of Marijuana. The state courts had to compel her to into giving a cancer patient a Medical Marijuana Card, and the Medical Marijuana Law is one of the strictest in the country.

    Hassan's predecessor, another Democrat, John Lynch also vetoed most of the legislature's efforts to reform the state's Marijuana Laws.

    Meanwhile the state next door with a self-proclaimed socialist senator has better gun and pot laws than the "Live Free or Die" state.

  • BillG883||

    Red states in the Bible Belt like where I live will probably be last, or maybe Utah. I'm a criminal defense attorney in Arkansas and Oklahoma. In Oklahoma you could still get life for growing one tiny pot plant or for selling a tiny amount and a second offense simple possession is a felony. We lock people up like crazy in this part of the country for silly reasons and our politicians are afraid to make our laws less severe because they might be labeled "liberals." Instead they keep okaying early release programs while complaining about how broke we are and lamenting the fact that we don't have money to build even more prisons and jails so they could lock more people up. Coming out for marijuana legalization would be political suicide. They have to have the old folks and holy roller votes. Our political leaders, law enforcement, church leaders and so on will fight legalization to the bitter end.

    People seem to be much more enlightened on these matters in your part of the country. Pennsylvania does have a high percentage of seniors though and a lot of adherents to strict religious groups that would like to ban everything they consider sinful. Just as in the South though your seniors are changing as more and more Baby Boomers hit the senior ranks while those who came before die off. Support for legalization will grow faster among seniors than in any other age demographic in the coming years. Legalization is inevitable there just as it is here in the Bible Belt.

  • MSimon||

    Taxes and regulations will keep the drug warriors in business.

  • rudehost||

    I kind of figure its at best 50/50 in California. California always seems to manage to be on the wrong side of everything. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they reject it.

  • BillG883||

    They bicker too much. The medical marijuana guys are making so much money that they will fight legalization efforts tooth and nail because they don't want to lose their cash cow. On top of that you have so many nuts there who push for things the majority would never go for, who want to write initiatives that only appeal to dedicated stoners. They have so many proposed initiatives that it's hard to keep track of them and one will steal votes from the other if more than one make it on the ballot. I think the medical marijuana guys tend to support the crazy ones that have no chance of passing hoping those will pull money and support from initiatives that actually have a chance of passing. California is a mess. I don't even give them a 50/50 shot. If they get something like Colorado's initiative on the ballot it would pass, but they'll likely end up with something more like Oregon's 2012 initiative or worse, or several of those.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The only God's Own Prohibitionist party wannabees that matter are Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. Trump likes libertarians, thinks we have good ideas, favors medical marijuana and wants states to deal with grass as with beer. It therefore follows, as night follows day, that Trump is viciously attacked in every Reason article. Marco Rubio wants federal agencies to force marijuana prohibition with lethal force on all states everywhere on Earth and to shut down all abortion clinics--14th Amendment and Supreme Court be hanged. Rubio is rarely mentioned by Reason except in the most vague and conciliatory terms, with hardly a word about his Herbert Hoover approach to prohibition as the universal panacea. Jeb's daddy vociferously demanded the death sentence for drug "kingpins" and police took him at his word, putting "I can't breathe" next to bombings as what the world sees representing American democracy at work. The bought doctor also believes the service pistol is the best answer to legalization activists. Who are the liberal Republican legalizers in the top ten?

  • buybuydandavis||

    " It therefore follows, as night follows day, that Trump is viciously attacked in every Reason article. "

    How can Reason become the next Salon without Trumpity Trump pants shitting hysteria?

  • rudehost||

    Maybe it has something to do with his love of eminent domain, his anti-libertarian views on immigration, his belief that the social welfare state doesn't need reform and the fact is he is a bombastic asshole?

    That is just off the top of my head but there is little about this guy for a libertarian to like.

  • DoubleC||

    You're overstating Trump's approval of state's rights. He did trash Colorado at CPAC for doing it, saying "I think it's bad. I think they [Colorado] have some big problems going on there now." I guess referring to whatever scare stories conservative outlets hawk about edibles. So he could be another Obama for all we know, a guy who was all for it until he got into office. I'd only trust those enthusiastic about the idea, not "If you're going to do it, it's your problem, mister!"

  • Eman||

    i really, really don't believe in conspiracy theories in general, but the continuing prohibition of weed makes me wonder. as incompetent and full of shit and selfish as our politicians (they're people too!) are, more dangerous than meth? come on. i think the drug war in general doesnt make sense, but weed is such an obviously trivial thing. either a) our government is not really representative b) most of us want fun drugs to be illegal, or c) something secret is going on, or some combination of the above

  • mrvco||

    It's not a "conspiracy", it's just a bunch of run-of-the-mill people that are really freaking confused after decades of irrational fear-mongering and the opportunistic politicians trying to manipulate the situation for their own aspirations of power. Considering the deluge of bullshit propaganda dumped on the American people since the inception of the "War on Drugs", it is truly a wonder the numbers are as high as they are now.

  • DoubleC||

    Look at how much Big Pharma and liquor companies donate to politicians. It's not trying to soften them up on doing away with the too low BA limit so more people go to bars without fear of being pulled over, or as an excuse to get what they want from the FDA, it's to keep marijuana illegal.

    I highly doubt there's more than a handful of politicians who sincerely believe the bullshit they claim in 2015. And certainly not Mr. Choom Gang, who started giving "think about the children!" reasoning for his flip flop on marijuana. But look at the huge amount of money he got from the medical field in both of his elections.

  • Conchfritters||

    Except legalization is not a liberal concept - - minding your own business is right out of the conservative play book. Whenever someone asked my grandpa about his personal affairs, he said: "none of your dam business" - and he's the most conservative guy I ever knew.

    Who are the Republican legalizers? Forgive me, as some of them are dead, but: William F Buckley Jr, Milton Friedman, Rand Paul, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, David Koch, Sarah Palin, Grover Nordquist, and you can put George Will and Clarence Thomas in the camp that doesn't actively support legalization, but supports Federalism. I would put William F Buckley Jr's conservative bonafides up against anyone.

  • NYer||

    Trump's flip-flopping on drug policy aside. Trump's best quality is that he's not Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Lindsay Graham, and Marco Rubio. His worst quality is that he sometimes makes Rubio and Huckabee look reasonable by comparison.

  • DoubleC||

    Another one of his best qualities would it would be hilarious to have a president who once retweeted something from Infowars.

  • DoubleC||

    *would be.

  • Hank Phillips||

    In the 1980s, bootlegging drugs was the only way Soviet communism had to raise money. They certainly produced nothing of value and the invasion of Afghanistan was a transparent grab at a source of narcotics. The US economy was badly shocked by Reagan-Bush Czarism, but in a decade the communist empire--that had itself had to re-legalize beer in 1925--collapsed for good. Unfortunately, prohibitionism as religious ideology prone to dictatorship replaced prohibitionism as a practical means of throttling the accursed commie dictatorship. Hemp will drastically reduce deaths from alcohol, gasoline, solvents, stramonium, beladonna and countless other legal and even subsidized poisons. Yet none of this would be happening were it not for the libertarian party. It was the American Liberal Party whose platform left the democrats no choice but to back repeal.

  • Roger Wilco||

    Marijuana legalization is becoming the Bread and Circuses of this election

  • Zunalter||


  • rudehost||

    Except bread and circuses were about the government handing out free shit in the form of bread and circuses thereby involving themselves more in people's lives. In this case the government would be involving itself less in people's private lives and would be leaving them alone. So you are right other than being completely the opposite its the same thing.

  • gaoxiaen||

    +/- imaginary number 1

  • Duncan20903||

    Both the Denver Post and Newsweek have already dubbed 2016 the "marijuana election." That was before Senator Sanders came out in favor of getting the Federal government out of the absolute prohibition of cannabis business.

    I think it's fascinating that 2016 is on track to mirror Election Day 1932. On Election Day 1932 the States of Arizona, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington repealed their respective State level laws inspired by the stupidity of the 18th Amendment. Franklin Roosevelt included Federal repeal as a fundamental plank in his campaign platform and winning his first term. When a shared mania collapses it does so very quickly.

    Regardless of any of the above, if you think that self ownership and/or our birthright of liberty which is supposed to be enjoyed by all Americans is some kind of diversion then I think that your personal priorities are wholly out of order.

  • YankeeLiberty||

    1. California ballot initiatives have not been well crafted.
    2. Many long-term medical marijuana supporters in California like things the way they are (and that's a lot of patients after 19 years)
    3. Water (drought) issues have split progressives and others on the mj issue due to water requirements for growing.
    4. "Guerilla grows" on Federal land in CA have created a lot of bad will (although that reasoning is backwards)

    Still, 2016 should be safe because the initiative is better, and because CA pride is starting to be hurt by lagging behind.

  • Duncan20903||

    To which proposed ballot initiative are you referring? At the moment there are 6 different referenda proposed in the general category of cannabis law reform. It's just plain silly to believe that the fans of cannabis walk in lockstep or speak with one voice. Anyone that enjoys watching people quibble, snipe and argue need only to get 100 cannabis law reform advocates in a room and tell them to select a subject for debate.

    There's also an active proposed California initiative to re-criminalize cannabis across the board. It would re-criminalize just about every part of regulated re-legalization that the residents of the State have enjoyed since approving the Compassionate Use Act on election Day 1996. It would allow for very limited access to medicinal cannabis, but would require that the State be the sole producer and distribution agent. It would also create a new license required for doctors that want to issue recommendations. Election Day 2016 could very well see cannabis law reform advocates and the sycophants of prohibition going mano a mano. Probably not, the prohibitionists have never demonstrated even a modicum of talent for getting the proposed laws on the ballot.

  • BillG883||

    I hope California is able to get a decent initiative on the ballot this time around. I read there are at least a dozen proposed initiatives now. If more than one make it on the ballot one will steal votes from the other. Something similar to Colorado's initiative could pass in California. Many would oppose it too. It wouldn't go far enough for many. Whatever laws you start with will be tweaked though and a well written initiative could prevent lawmakers from making things more restrictive but could leave things open for making the laws less restrictive. Too many reformers want to write initiatives only stoners would support. The big money will go to the initiative that has a real chance of passing, but any others that somehow make it on the ballot could steal just enough votes to sink even a well crafted ballot initiative. I am not that optimistic about legalization in California in 2016. I would love to see it. It would hasten the end of this harmful prohibition in this country and elsewhere. But I'm not going to get my hopes up.

  • Rockabilly||

    By contrast, progressives have been critics of the war on drugs, he says. It's only when marijuana becomes an industry, run by capitalists, that the left get uneasy.

    ---So the progs want the centralized government, that prohibits marijuana, to tax and regulate the plant because the left does not like capitalists who would like to sell marijuana but can't because the centralized government has prohibited the plant.

  • Sir Doombringer of SexBot||

    Pretty much. For progs, capitalism is the devil, and taxes are an offering to the hallowed state. If somebody likes doing something, it's sinning and there needs to be a tax to absolve guilt, because corporations, doomed environment, racism, date-rape.

    I don't think as non-believers we can ever expect to understand their faith, but according to the official Progressives' Handbook, the correct modern socialist method for legalized marijuana consumption is:

    1. A couple bong rips
    2. Series of at least 3 whip-its
    3. Sniff your own fart
    4. 3 more whip-its
    5. Pay more taxes
    6. More fart sniffing
    7. Attend college
    8. Looking in the mirror to realize meager skills / looks / personality / work-ethic/ ambition
    9. Quiet tears and more bong rips
    10. Loud transference of self-loathing towards any target (preferably something of value/someone of merit)
    11. Rub index finger around asshole, then sniff for any residual fart traces
    12. Repeat

  • BeefJokey||

    *looks down, sighs: You know me better than I know myself.

  • ElDuderino||

    I attended the Marijuana Business Conference in Las Vegas. I have to say that what I saw and heard was a bit unnerving to me as a person who wants to see marijuana completely legal. A few red-flags from the conference:

    1. Ralph Fucking Nader gave a keynote address about how through heavy regulation, Medical Marijuana can be more easily digested by the masses on election day.
    2. Concerns about whether "Big Tobacco" or "Big Alcohol" will take over the MJ industry were addressed by several former high level people familiar with both industries.
    3. Scientists presented their concerns about the state of MJ science.

  • ElDuderino||

    The scientists expressed frustration with studying the effects of MJ and I understand their frustration and believe them when they say there just isn't enough solid research out there about the medicinal effects or the potential harmful side effects. That doesn't mean it should stay illegal, just that there is little research on the topic compared to other drugs, foods and supplements. The fact that MJ legalization has gone down the "Medical" route rather than the "freedom" route is a direct result of letting fucking liberals rather than libertarians take the reins in this debate. The fact that there is little good science backing up the medical value of MJ is alarming since it could end up banned again, think ephedra. Already there is a study that "suggests" Strong (read medical) MJ may lead to mental illness.
    Fear of it becoming a big business is going to force lobbyists to enact arbitrary rules that protect "small" farmers and distributors from big business. This isolationist sentiment is going to make it difficult for MJ businesses to defend themselves in court when they violate the many regulations that are sure to come down the pipeline. Tobacco companies have the legal strength to fight these battles. The fact that cigarette are not totally illegal yet is a testament to "big tobaccos" ability to defend its products in court.The combined effect of trying to keep MJ businesses small and heavily regulated to appease politicians is eventually going to lead to its demise.

  • Roger Knights||

    Sullum's comeback to O'Reilly's charge that legalization will mean more intoxication should have been that the effect will not be strictly additive, because:

    1. MJ use will partially substitute for alcohol use.
    2. It's desirable to substitute a less dangerous drug for a more dangerous one.

  • Roger Knights||

    3. Most people who would consume it legally are already doing so.

  • Duncan20903||

    September 9, 2015:
    Governor John Hickenlooper, founder of a beer brewery and a former mayor of Denver, opposed the historic 2012 measure that legalized pot for adults 21 and older. But in the interview published on Wednesday in Westword, he says legalization hasn’t been so bad, after all.

    "If I’d had a magic wand the day after, I probably would have reversed the vote. Now I look at how far we’ve come, and I think there’s a real possibility that we’ll have a system that works… if you eliminate the black market, make it harder for kids to get marijuana. We can put more money into education for kids,” he says. “The sky isn’t falling. People thought it was the end of civilization as they know it. It wasn’t: The sky is mostly still up there with the stars and the clouds.

    Twenty-one months after the roll out of recreational-marijuana stores in Colorado, the one thing Hickenlooper wants everyone in or out of Colorado to know about ending marijuana prohibition is: “Most people who were not smoking marijuana before it was legalized still don’t.”


  • Kathleen Chippi||


    The CSA requires the feds PROVE to "we the people" (in 1 year with a 1 TIME ONLY 6 month extension) that ANY SUBSTANCE they put on the CSA schedule meets ALL the requirements of THAT schedule. They put cannabis as schedule I in 1971 without ever proving cannabis met ANY of the requirements of Schedule I.

    Schedule I substances are those that have the following findings:
    1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
    2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
    3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision

    The Shafer Commission research (1971) that was being done to verify (as the CSA itself requires) what schedule cannabis should be if at all since it's schedule I was "temporary" from congress. The Shafer Commission found cannabis should NOT BE ON SCHEDULE and Nixon shredded/ignored that and ramped up the war on cannabis, the longest war in the history of the US.

    The feds have never met the requirements of their own rules and regs (CSA) in the last 44 years. Americans want cannabis removed from schedule because science, sanity, humanity and 8,000+ years of human use requires it.

    Never forget the longest war in the history of the US was and is currently perpetrated by 1. Big Government, 2. Big Business and 3. Mass Media.

  • Sir Doombringer of SexBot||

    Well he does have an actual grave to roll in, you'll just be meat for zoos with an ecard eulogy sent to the person you got a venereal disease from. For better or worse he was a president and famous actor. You'll just be remembered as the meat loaf that gave a cheetah Hep C. So there's that. Ha. Ha. Ha.

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    Being Libertarian I believe in self determination and individual rights, including the right not to be harmed by people too intoxicated to control themselves or their vehicles. Alcohol is legal, but controlled. No public intoxication is allowed and there are tests that confirm that level of intoxication to a reasonable degree. Does such an on-the-spot test exist for THC? If not, (and I don't believe there is) then the whole issue of public THC intoxication must be put on hold until an instant and reliable test for THC levels is available to police, EMT's and doctors.

  • Jay Dubya||

    "the right not to be harmed..."

    I think that you and I have a very different conception of what rights are.

  • NYer||

    "including the right not to be harmed by people too intoxicated to control themselves or their vehicles."

    Which is an argument in favor of cops pulling people off the roads for reckless endangerment (which I support). Its not an argument for keeping Marijuana banned from the market place.

  • Mike Parent||

    We'd all be better off if the police would focus on crimes that have actual victims.

    Does anyone, other than those who pad their pockets from prohibition honestly believe that wasting $20 Billion and arresting 3/4 Million Americans annually for choosing a substance scientifically proven to be safer than what the govt allows, is a sound policy?

  • antodav||

    Sometimes change can actually be a good thing. However legalization won't automatically release all the nonviolent drug offenders from prison. That would require executive action, and there are few presidential candidates running with the courage to do it.

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