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It’s Time To End America’s Failed Cannabis Prohibition

The end of cannabis prohibition is near. How can one tell? When the beneficiaries of the status quo—both prohibitionists and contrabandists—join together to actively oppose long sought alternatives to America’s expensive, unsuccessful, anti-free market and Constitution-warping cannabis prohibition, then it is clear that change is upon us.

This telling scenario was one of many that played out in the latest and greatest effort to date to legalize a currently unsanctioned herb that is far safer than tobacco and less impairing than alcohol products. In California, many of the so-called medical cannabis dispensaries and their preferred cultivators forged an odd, and self-interested alliance with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, drug czar’s office, California Chiefs of Police Association, California Beverage Association, Scientologists, drug rehabilitation profiteers and pro-big government, prohibitionist liberals like Senator Diane Feinstein in opposing Proposition 19 (which sought to allow California cities and counties the ability to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis sales to adults for non-medical purposes).

The current vote tally indicates a 54 percent-to-46 percent loss for Prop. 19, but reformers are hardly depressed, repressed or resigned by this loss. In fact, we are committed to redoubling the now 40-year-old cannabis law reform movement’s political efforts to end Cannabis Prohibition, and return to the voters of California in 2012 again with a pro-reform initiative that has a nearly 50 percent base of public support in the state for legalization from which to build upon. (Prop. 19 garnered more votes than individually for Republican candidates Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and anti-cannabis Attorney General candidate Steve Cooley; and for a fraction of the cost these statewide office-seekers exhausted to achieve their vote totals).

The close loss might have turned out to be a narrow victory had the Prop. 19 campaign not received more than 50 percent of the public donations in the last four weeks of the campaign, which did not allow them to have any physical presence in Los Angeles County or the three major cannabis cultivation counties in the north (Mendocino, Humboldt and Sonoma), where, if only a small percentage more of voters had instead favored Prop. 19, then the headline on election night would have been all together different.

Preferred Policy for Adult Cannabis Use

NORML’s bottom line: The federal government criminally prohibited the possession and use of cannabis in 1937. Nearly 75 years later it is apparent that cannabis is here to stay. It is time to begin to address this reality, and regulate its production, distribution, and use accordingly. When future voter initiatives pass at the state level that ‘legalize’ cannabis, they’ll be but a first step (and certainly not the final one) in this direction.

It’s time to end the legal harassment, discrimination, and criminal prosecution of adult cannabis consumers.

Despite coming up on the losing end of the final vote count, Proposition was a major winner in five distinct ways:

  1. Nationwide discussion and debate about legalizing cannabis was kicked off by Prop. 19’s launch;other states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon are poised to launch legalization initiatives in 2011 or 2012.
  2. Law reformers made great strides in cannabis coalition building with major unions (SEIU), civil rights groups (NAACP), Democrats, and former law enforcement officials finally coming on board to support an end to Cannabis Prohibition.
  3. A new funding dynamic appears to be emerging for cannabis law reform in America as a number of wealthy young entrepreneurs stepped out of their smoky closets and acknowledged their stakeholdership in cannabis law reform (i.e., some of the founders of Facebook, Gmail and Napster) with large financial donations and supportive public statements.

    Also, ‘ganjapreneurs’ and cannabusinesses in Oakland launched the initiative rather than liberal philanthropist George Soros and Peter Lewis-funded conduits Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, who’ve traditionally received the ‘big money’ to run pro-cannabis reform initiatives since 1996.
  4. While most every major newspaper in California came out against Prop. 19, they did so while at the same time acknowledging the failure of Cannabis Prohibition and need for basic reforms.
  5. While opponents of Prop. 19 chiefly opposed three components (cannabis use in the workplace/drug testing; driving while impaired; and use of cannabis in front of young children), what was pleasantly devoid of the great public debate in California about cannabis legalization over the last year were the ol’ Reefer Madness claims of cannabis being a ‘gateway’ drug, causing a-motivational syndrome, criminality or addiction.

NORML's Top 10 Lessons from Prop 19

NORML's Top 10 Lessons for Reformers from Proposition 19

  1. Make clear that legalization enhances, not detracts from patient access to cannabis as a medicine.
  2. Better appreciate that people 18-25 years of age make up the biggest group of stakeholders affected by Cannabis Prohibition and we can’t over-penalize them to appease our opponents in hopes of gaining their support for reform.
  3. Find a way to integrate the current illegal growers and sellers into a new legalized market.
  4. You can’t win until the general public is more scared of cannabis prohibition than they are of legalization.
  5. Stop painting cannabis as necessarily a bad thing that needs to be highly controlled.
  6. Be realistic about what legalization can and can’t accomplish.
  7. Legalize cannabis first then deal with secondary issues like drug testing later.
  8. You can’t treat cannabis like alcohol per se unless we have roadside tests (like we in fact have for alcohol).
  9. You can't commercialize cannabis cultivation and sales without consistent statewide regulations (not a city-by-city patchwork of laws).
  10. Recognize that medical cannabis has reached its political peak and is now inexplicably linked to the overall legalization effort.

Despite more than 70 years of federal cannabis prohibition, cannabis is here to stay. It's time to acknowledge this reality, and to cease ceding control of the commercial cannabis market to unregulated, untaxed criminal enterprises that destabilize America’s precious borders with neighboring countries and rightly place cannabis in the hands of licensed businesses.