THE BLOG
06/09/2013 09:24 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2013

History Does Repeat Itself: The Correlation Between the Irish Civil War and Washington State's I-502, the Bill to Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use

"That's a stretch," you're probably thinking in your head after reading this title. How can a Civil War be likened to some bill that was passed a few months ago? It's not such an outlandish idea though, especially when you take a closer look. Try to understand the motivations of both sides, and what would drive people to be up in arms. In both cases, what began as a popular movement among the public, ended with each side ripped in half by the means used to achieve these goals. Somewhere along the journey, groups were splintered by the controversial decisions that were taken by those leading the movements. I'll be leaving the debate about the pros and cons of the Civil War and legalization. Rather, I'd like to examine the infighting that resulted during these ground-breaking movements.

To take a look back in time, the Irish War of Independence followed a few years after the Easter Rising of 1916, the world's most successful failure. The rising went horribly, but the brutal British response brought a swell of support from the previously indifferent Irish public. Ireland was home to brutal guerrilla and urban fighting from 1919 up until 1922, but the Irish did have one thing going for them; they shared a common enemy: the British.

In 1922, frustrated by the way things were going on the island, and with a depleted treasury, London proposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. This allowed for self-governance in 26 of Ireland's 32 counties and designated Ireland as a Free State, an "autonomous dominion of the British Empire," which still required Irish to swear allegiance to the crown if they wanted to hold any sort of public office.

All of Ireland wanted full independence, but this Treaty splintered that unity as soon as it was passed by the Irish parliament. One side believed this was a necessary stepping-stone to reach full independence at some point in the future. The opposing side believed this was the one and only chance they would ever have to pursue full and unfettered freedom from the oppressors in London. And so, just as in our own Civil War, people used the same rifles they used against the British against friends, and brothers against brothers, which led to eleven bloody months that tore the country apart and left scars in their mentality that remain still today. While the Republic of the Ireland that we know today was founded in 1949, Northern Ireland still faces London and has been home to violence rooted in this very controversy that's continued even until recently.

When I heard about the controversial bill making it's way through the WA state senate, it was interesting to talk to my friends and get their take on the ongoing discussion back home. Many of them -- and of course members of the general public -- were firmly in the pro-legalization camp but wouldn't vote for I-502 because they disagreed with the language of the bill itself. In the interest of successful politics, clauses were added to appease and attract more skeptical, middle-of-the-road voters. For example, a clause that deals with the driving under the influence of marijuana gives officers the right to blood test anyone suspicious and packs stiff penalties for offenders. Without getting too technical, the effects of smoking marijuana last just a few hours, but the traces of THC in your bloodstream can last for days. Opponents of the bill feared this could land them in jail and with a permanent record long after the effects of smoking -- and their negative effects on driving -- have worn off. Medical marijuana users who need the plant daily would be rendered immobile, not able to drive anywhere themselves for fear of being convicted of a DUI.

In the end, the bill I-502 passed but with substantial pushback from numerous outspoken members of the serious weed culture here in Washington State. Those pushing the bill forward argued it was a revolutionary step forward, bringing us closer to full legalization. They were motivated to plant the flag of legalization firmly here in our home state and to be the catalyst for a wider legalization movement across the country. Home grow is still illegal, and marijuana remains as a Schedule 1 drug in the eyes of the law, right up there with meth and heroin, but many see the passing of the bill as a step in the right direction.

It was fascinating for me to explore this example of how history can repeat itself in unexpected ways. In both of these instances, people shared the same drive, and a similar goal, but were turned against each other in the red zone by the play calling of each faction's respective leadership. It's these little correlations that blast Europe and the continent's history from the pages of history books and turn them into lessons that we should still learn from and explore today.