08/30/2013 11:25 am ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

The People Forced the Government to Bend

Just a few years ago the governor of Washington State opposed the legalization of marijuana. Her successor opposed Initiative 502, which called for the regulated legalization of adult use of the plant. Our state legislators, by and large, opposed the reform, as did our congressional delegation in the "other" Washington. Federal lawyers and bureaucrats warned of "consequences" if the people of Colorado and Washington passed a legalization initiative. The drug czar ("legalization is not in my vocabulary and it's not in the president's") rattled sabers, as did every former drug czar, the incumbent DEA chief and each of her predecessors.

And that's just a partial list of formidable forces arrayed against sane and sensible drug laws. Everyone who profits from the drug war, from the prison industrial complex to violent cartels and street traffickers, is invested in maintaining the status quo.

It was a momentous occasion when Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the justice department would honor the will of the people of Washington and Colorado and 18 other states plus the District of Columbia and four states with pending marijuana law reforms.

To all who have favored but not worked toward drug policy reform because "the government will never allow it," let this be a lesson. Yesterday's announcement (a critical albeit partial victory; marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, after all), was a direct result of millions of Americans working hard, uniting in spite of differences, and forcing the government to do the right thing.