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420: Put Down That Joint and Pick Up a Pen

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A year ago I wrote a piece on 420, contrasting legalized booze and illicit pot. It generated a good deal of reader feedback. A common thread:

"The war against drugs is a money making business. Prisons are a money making business. How are you going to replace all those jobs for the DEA...prisons, prison officers, other suppliers?"

"This is America, people. Europeans are socially enlightened, we are not. Europeans are progressive, we are not...frustrating, sure, but it's not going to change in my lifetime..."

"We Americans love to talk the talk, but never seem to have the time or energy to walk the walk."

" won't change any time soon. As long as the majority of people are ignorant and vote accordingly, our politics and laws will reflect that ignorance."

"I would not expect a sitting President or Senator to take up your cause until there is a MASSIVE public cry for it."

In other words, say these readers, no matter what common sense and science have to offer on the subject it's not going to happen. The willful inflexibility of special interests (namely those profiting from the drug war: drug cartels, drug warriors, Big Pharma, prison industrial complex, et al) is simply too powerful to overcome.

Given slavish governmental allegiance to the drug war (over the course of eight presidencies), skepticism is understandable. But unwarranted.

Look at what's happening across the country. Formerly timid state legislatures, admittedly driven in some instances by economic hard times, are actually considering the legalization of marijuana. Cannabis is, after all, the biggest (untaxed, unregulated) cash crop in the country.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco -- before the recession hit with full force, and with only three months on the job -- introduced a bill in the California State Assembly that would have allowed adults to grow, buy, sell, and possess cannabis. While it passed the assembly's public safety committee, by a 4-3 vote, AB 390 died when the health committee failed to act on it by January of this year. Reintroduced as AB 2254, the identical bill, in its current or a future incarnation, promises to get continuing play at the state capitol and in the national media.

We've witnessed a veritable explosion of cannabis law reform in other states and local communities: medical marijuana; decriminalization; pot as a city's lowest law enforcement priority.

But the eyes and the imagination of the nation remain fixed on California. As lawmakers wrestle with conscience and courage, the voters of that state are taking matters into their own hands. "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis 2010," the brainchild of Oaksterdam University founder Rich Lee, has qualified for the November ballot. Support is polling at 56 percent.

Enthusiastic editorial backing from across the country, along with the endorsement of a vast array of trade unions, professional associations, and drug policy reform organizations bodes well for the connected causes of liberty, justice and economic recovery: According to the State Board of Equalization, California's tax collector, the initiative will net the state a cool $1.4 billion a year.

The campaign is meeting pitched resistance from opponents, which will only intensify as election day nears. Conventional wisdom suggests a softening of support as undiscerning voters succumb to the scare tactics of forces determined to keep pot illegal.

We all know that the federal government trumps the states when it comes to drug laws, and that against all concepts of sanity, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug (in the company of PCP and China White) -- and therefore a top enforcement priority. But Attorney General Eric Holder, with the blessings of President Obama, has promised to honor the will of lawmakers in the individual states, whether those lawmakers be legislators or citizen activists.

You don't have to be a Californian to strike a blow for freedom and justice. As a voter and/or a toker, perhaps at 4:20 on 4/20/10 you'll pick up a pen and compose a letter to the editor and/or write a check to the campaign. What happens in the nation's largest state will certainly reverberate throughout the other forty-nine.