12/21/2012 10:25 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

Is This the End of Marijuana Prohibition As We Know It?

With adults in Colorado and Washington now legally able to possess an ounce or less of marijuana for any reason, it's important to stop for a moment and take stock of the landscape when it comes to marijuana law reform.

The "crossroads" cliché has been used to death, but there really are a few paths advocates can take from here. We can accept our success and trust that the awesomeness that is going to ensue from Colorado and Washington over the next few years will end prohibition for good, with no additional help from us.

We can also let success go to our head and begin fighting with each other over our own versions of what legalization should look like. Or we can come together and push harder than ever toward our final goal: the complete destruction of marijuana prohibition as policy in the United States.

The third option is the only one that will finish what Colorado and Washington have started. If we look at cannabis prohibition as a wall, some chunks have been taken out of the bottom now, and the whole structure is weakened. At a certain point enough chunks will be taken out that the entire wall will collapse on itself. How many chunks that will take remains to be seen, and it is something that we need to find out sooner rather than later.

For now, Colorado and Washington are the proving grounds for legalization. They are the chunks taken out of the wall that will make taking out more chunks easier.

In Colorado, the official date of legalization became December 10, 2012 with Governor Hickenlooper's proclamation ratifying Amendment 64 into the state Constitution.

"This is a truly historic day," said Mason Tvert, one of the driving forces behind Amendment 64 and now the Communications Director at the Marijuana Policy Project, on December 10th.

From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana. We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for issuing this declaration in a timely fashion, so that adult possession arrests end across the state immediately.

We look forward to working with the governor's office and many other stakeholders on the implementation of Amendment 64. We are certain that this will be a successful endeavor, and Colorado will become a model for other states to follow.

Governor Hickenlooper kept things low-key on legalization day in his state, to avoid the smoke-out countdowns that happened in Washington leading up to December 6th, legalization day in the Evergreen State.

"I could have made a bigger deal out of it, you know, tried to make a hoopla out of it," Hickenlooper told reporters after the marijuana declaration.

"But if we are concerned about young people thinking that this ... is really in some way a tacit endorsement, that's it's OK to smoke pot -- we're trying to mitigate that as much as possible," he said.

By contrast, the night of December 5th saw a countdown at the Space Needle in Seattle, among other places, featuring large public smoking demonstrations. Public smoking is still illegal in Washington as well as Colorado, but police were nowhere to be seen during the demonstrations in Washington.

"I feel like a kid in a candy store!" said Seattle Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman that night. "It's all becoming real now!"

"This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition," said Hempfest director Vivian McPeak. "The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow."

After election night in November, reactions from around the cannabis community poured in. "I cannot tell you how happy I am that after forty years of the racist, destructive exercise in futility that is the war on drugs, my home state of Washington has now put us on a different path," said former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper. "There are people who have lost today: drug cartels, street gangs, those who profit from keeping American incarceration rates the highest in the world. For the rest of us, however, this is a win. It's a win for taxpayers. It's a win for police. It's a win for all those who care about social justice. This is indeed a wonderful day."

"Because of the victories in all of these places, we awakened this morning in a slightly better country. It's a little safer, a little bit more just," said Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and 34-year veteran of the Baltimore and Maryland State police departments. "And when the rest of the country follows the lead pioneered by the voters of Colorado and Washington, we'll be closer to living in a country with a drug policy that is truly about public safety."

"Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 provide adult cannabis consumers with unprecedented legal protections," said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano.

Until now, no state law has defined cannabis as a legal commodity. Some state laws do provide for a legal exception that allows for certain qualified patients to possess specific amounts of cannabis as needed. But, until today, no state in modern history has classified cannabis itself as a legal product that may be lawfully possessed and consumed by adults.

The passage of these measures strikes significant blow to federal cannabis prohibition. Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police. Alcohol prohibition fell when a sufficient number of enacted legislation repealing the state's alcohol prohibition laws. With state police and prosecutors no longer engaging in the federal government's bidding to enforce an unpopular law, the federal government had little choice but to abandon the policy altogether. Today, history begins to repeat itself.

Obviously, the timeframe for the wall of marijuana prohibition to crumble depends on a lot. It depends on the efforts of advocates in the individual states as well as those working at a federal level in Washington, D.C. It depends on other geopolitical issues and how much voters care about marijuana law reform going forward. It depends on how much money the cannabis law reform movement can raise to bring about political victories.

Much also depends on the courts and how they react to medical marijuana laws and federal encroachment on states' rights. The Supreme Court is supposed to rule on marijuana being a Schedule I drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act sometime next year. A rescheduling of marijuana at the federal level will certainly be another chunk taken out of the bottom of the wall of prohibition, bringing the day of full collapse even closer.

As for the feds themselves, they keep saying they are "reviewing" the new laws in Colorado and Washington. A lot will depend on whether or not the Department of Justice decides to crackdown on people breaking federal law in those states, despite what state law says.

The key to bringing down any wall in an incremental fashion is constant pressure, constant hammering. It took us some 75 years to get to this point, but it will take much less time to bring the wall back down. Anyone born in the Vietnam era or after is very likely to see the complete end of cannabis prohibition in their lifetime. Ironic, since it was their parents, the "baby boomer" generation, that started us on the road away from prohibition decades ago. Many of the boomers might miss the final victory.

So grab your hammers and be a part of the crumbling of the wall of marijuana prohibition. Let your representatives know how you feel about legalization and spread the word about marijuana law reform efforts in your state.

It's time to tear down this wall that towers all around us.