When the history of marijuana prohibition in America is updated in a few decades, this will be recounted as its awkward age, when some states allowed the production and dissemination of medical cannabis, some didn't, and the federal government made delicate—and sometimes seemingly arbitrary—decisions about raiding grow sites and co-ops.
The residents of Washington and Colorado stepped up the conflict last November, when they authorized the use of recreational marijuana. As those states prepare to carry out the voters' will, the Justice Department breathes down their backs, issuing reminders that the Controlled Substances Act prohibits marijuana outright. The stage is set for years of prosecutions and jurisdictional wrangling in the courts.
It doesn't have to be that way. A couple of forward-thinking representatives want Congress to honor the states' decisions on this controversial question, and it should do exactly that. Colorado Rep. Jared Polis last week introduced the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would grant states the option of regulating marijuana as they do alcohol and tobacco. It would remove cannabis from the list of drugs the DEA seeks to eradicate and charge a renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives with enforcing nationwide restrictions on the marijuana trade. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, wisely sweetening the proposed transition with billions of dollars in annual revenue, introduced a companion bill that would establish a 50 percent federal excise tax on marijuana.
Oregon, a major player in the liberalization of marijuana laws, has much at stake in this legislation. The first state to decriminalize marijuana possession and one of the first four to permit medical marijuana, Oregon likely will be among the next states to permit nonmedical use of the drug. Oregonians in November passed on Measure 80, which was scarcely promoted, but they'll be more inclined to favor legalization come 2014 or 2016. By then, Washington and Colorado are projected to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenue annually—while Oregon spends ever more to suppress the black market spinning off from Washington's booming marijuana industry.
With respect and appreciation, we award a glass slipper to Blumenauer and Polis for proposing a peaceful end to the most pointless battle in the Drug War.