THREE states—Colorado, Washington and Oregon—have on their ballots this fall initiatives to legalise marijuana fully, without the sop to puritanism of medical necessity. That means a differently framed debate. Instead of getting bogged down in studies over marijuana’s medical benefits—of which there are plenty, and which will for the first time in 20 years get a hearing in federal court next week—these initiatives instead focus on the ills of prohibition and the economic benefits of legalisation. In Colorado, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol argues that regulation will essentially do for pot what it did post-Prohibition for booze: give the state some needed tax revenue and remove criminals from the marijuana-distribution game. Sensible Washington has loaded every pro-legalisation argument into a shotgun and blasted away. The Oregon initiative has adopted as their rallying cry, “It’s not about how great legalisation is, it’s about how horrible prohibition is.”
Salon has an article at once cheering and bleak about just what a game-changer Oregon’s initiative is, and about how little the game is likely to change. The piece argues that the measure has essentially been written to take to federal court, and to challenge federal supremacy on marijuana regulation. So far so good. But of course, that path implicitly accepts that the measure, which on its face is designed to legalise marijuana, will not in fact legalise marijuana: supporters treat it as a foregone conclusion that the feds will do what feds do.
This is a shame. Not just because, as we have argued before, legalisation is “the least bad solution”, but because the only thing worse than draconian and ineffective regulation is draconian, ineffective and confusing regulation. Just ask Aaron Sandusky, who runs three state-compliant medical-marijuana dispensaries in California, but who is scheduled to go on trial in federal court this week for manufacturing marijuana and possession with intent to distribute. Or ask the owners of medical-marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, whose businesses were first legal, then banned and now, thanks to a pressure campaign, seem to be somewhat legal once again. One does not have to use or like marijuana to appreciate that this state of affairs is ludicrous.
And one need not be a Republican to throw a lot of the blame on the Obama administration, which came in promising to stop cracking down on state-compliant medical-marijuana businesses and proceeded to…