For those who missed it, there were two pot legalization laws passed in the last election, one in Washington State and one in Colorado. These laws do not decriminalize simple pot possession, they legalize it, for adults, for fun. Up to an ounce of pot perfectly legal. More than that, the laws make it the respective states' responsibilities to make that legal pot available in stores in the next year. Which means the state will have to start licensing commercial cannabis growers, then sell the stuff. It's all pretty remarkable. And here's my take on it, and the potential for a ripple effect that could be a lot more profound than the immediate impact of the laws themselves.
Well, the dust has hardly settled but the boots are at the door; they might come storming through riling up that dust some more.
But we hope not. The boots belong to the Justice Department and the door belongs to the states of Washington and Colorado. The dust is the election that saw those two states make the biggest moves toward cannabis legalization any state has made in a long long time. No, neither law is perfect, and it is going to be a cold day in hell -- probably -- before state stores are up and running, but still, the fact that the voters got out there and said enough is enough and let's get something on legalization out there is very freaking refreshing. Ask anyone who works in any capacity to end the drug war: Wins are few and far between. It took more than 10 years of effort to rein in law enforcement's forfeiture spree; it took a lot longer than that to get the racist Rockefeller sentencing laws even semi-tossed. So what happened in Washington and Colorado is in the win column though we cannot be at all sure that the feds are not going to come in and try to muck things up like they have with California and Oregon's medical marijuana laws.
Thus far, the news in parts of both states has been good: Large areas of Washington and Colorado have dropped pending marijuana possession cases for small quantities -- the vast majority of all pot cases -- and more areas are thinking they will join that tact. And if the states can actually grab their balls and open the stores next year, well, tax revenue will begin to flow. Which is one of the things that bothers a lot of my old cannabis buddies: They would prefer the weed be free to grow, use and sell at will rather than have it commoditized like alcohol. I understand their reasoning. On the other hand, I'm of a mind that a step forward is a step forward and the idea of being able to waltz into a pot store, shop for pot as if it was Dennis Peron's old San Francisco pot grocery store, pay the man and stroll out to roll a doobie and catch a sunset... well, we all do that already except for the grocery store part. And that's the part that's at the heart of things. That's the legal part. And if we can make Eric Holder and the Justice Department -- and who ever runs it after Holder leaves his post (probably by the time you read this) to promise to simply not do anything -- just stay the fed out of the way, well, then we'll start to get some place.
And now that Washington and Colorado have taken this step, new bills have been introduced in Maine and Rhode Island -- two small states on the far northeast for those who were stoned during geography class -- to legalize pot there as well. And I'm pretty sure they're just the tip of the iceberg. Because most people in the United States, just like most of Canada, are sick and tired of watching lives, families, and sometimes whole communities being destroyed by marijuana prohibition.
So let's keep our fingers crossed and say a little something into the next smoke you exhale to make it all just happen.
But... one of the most interesting things about Washington's new law is that it makes a distinction between cannabis and hemp -- and now that cannabis is legalized and that distinction is in legal-speak in the state rule book, I don't think it will be long before Washington petitions the Drug Enforcement Administration to have hemp removed from the Controlled Substances Act. And things are even more clear in Colorado, because the new law not only separates cannabis from hemp, but allows for farmers to plant hemp.
Do not underestimate the value of those moves by the people who wrote the laws. If one state begins to grow hemp and it is successful, you know every goddamned farmer with a couple of acres is going to demand the right to get in on hemp. And then people are going to need harvesters that can work that plant, and then, and then, and then the world gets saved at the very last second by the evil weed that turned out to be an angel all along!
Again, to have that even begin to happen, we're going to need the feds to keep their big boots out of the states' business. But we ought to have a whole lot of Tea Baggers on our nasty ass liberal side for that one, since conservatives, and particularly the Tea Party folks, are always clamoring for state's rights. That should be fun to watch!
BUT HEY! Put the damned bong down. Enough celebrating. Because while Washington and Colorado did the right thing, down south in Mexico the bodies are still being found without hands and feet; torsos are still being found in garbage bags and dumped on roads. This is the madness of the war on drugs and we have got to keep working to have the whole war ended, which is the only way we'll help end the mayhem in Mexico, which is entirely fueled by the proceeds of the black market created by the war on drugs.
And it ain't just Mexico. At the end of November a second round of peace talks were started in Havana, Cuba between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels who have been waging a civil war for nearly 50 years there. The death toll over that time has been well over 30,000, most of those rural campesinos. Yes, this is the drug war too. What started out as a movement to get some of Colombia's land redistributed so that rural communities could share a little of the bounty of that country with the small number of oligarchy families who controlled almost every facet of Colombia was first infiltrated by drug lords via the AUC, the right-wing paramilitary group that has been responsible for so many of the deaths there. But the leftist FARC, who initially refused to be involved with drug money, was finally corrupted during the 1990s and so everybody in that conflict -- including the Colombian military, many trained by U.S. Special Forces, is involved with the black market in drugs. And naturally it's innocents who bear the brunt of the displacement, death squad murders and all the rest of the physical and emotional carnage. So how are those peace talks gonna go? The government will ask the FARC to give up their weapons. The FARC will say that if they do that they'll be slaughtered.
But if we legalized drugs in the U.S., then other countries would follow suit, unafraid that U.S. aid would be cut off, and well, there would be no money to have a civil war in Colombia or rampant violence in Mexico that's spilled over to Guatemala. I mean, there would still be a fight to redistribute the land, and there would be a shitload of old animosity to get past, but the money grab, the reach for the drug war riches, would no longer be part of the equation. Which would lower the volume on the violence considerably.
So you see how it works, right? I mean if Washington and Colorado are allowed to implement their little but great step in legalizing cannabis, we'll be taking the first huge step in stopping a whole lot of violence in a number of places. That's got to be the real goal. Stop the violence. End the Drug War. Stop the violence. End the Drug War.
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