Prepare for a migration to Colorado. Expect the population of Washington to explode.
In what looks to me like a blow for common sense and fiscal sanity, citizens in those two states voted on Election Day to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Willie Nelson and his entourage may already be on the road to Boulder. Rocky Mountain High, indeed.
Fourteen states (including New York) have reduced possession of small amounts of pot to a violation. Eighteen states have legalized use of medical marijuana, which is often a flimsy cover for healthy folks to get high. But this is the first time voters of a state have OK'd possession of up to an ounce of pot for personal use. As with same-sex marriage, one by one, the dominoes are falling. Indeed, I hear there is a smoldering effort in the State Legislature to legalize medical marijuana use in New York. It sounds like the “bong” of freedom ringing.
The so-called drug war has turned recreational users or addicts needing medical help into criminals. Some 750,000 Americans are arrested annually on pot charges, nearly nine in 10 for mere possession. As arguably the most benign of illegal substances, pot is the low-hanging fruit of legalization.
“Whatever it is – segregation, gay rights, women's rights – the changes come step by step,” said Peter Christ.
Christ (rhymes with “wrist”) is a retired Tonawanda police captain who a decade ago co-founded LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. As he realized, the pro-legalization argument has added oomph when it comes from ex-cops, prosecutors and judges.
Although some see legalizing pot as a sign of the coming apocalypse, I view it as a stroke of sanity. We spend an estimated $10 billion annually enforcing laws against a drug that does far less harm to health and society than alcohol or tobacco. What's the point?
“Prohibition doesn't work, and we can't afford it,” Christ told me by phone last week from Syracuse. “Deciding whether or not someone can ingest a particular drug should not be a function of government.”
I have never much liked pot, but I have plenty of hard-working, otherwise-law-abiding, middle-aged and middle-class friends who do. To me, there's not much difference between having a drink after dinner or lighting up. Indeed, drinkers are far more likely than tokers to get rowdy and obnoxious.
Nearly everyone has a drug of choice – whether legal or illegal. Availability is not the issue with pot, which is not hard to come by. Criminalization merely gives rise to the violence and turf wars we saw with alcohol during Prohibition. If those battles were being fought on the streets of the Amhersts and Orchard Parks of America, instead of on its East Sides, I suspect there would be more of a legalization conversation.
Whatever the case, that conversation – thanks to voters in Colorado and Washington – just got louder. Coming soon to a state near you: Legalized marijuana. Inhale the reality.