As we move into another election cycle, there are some major moves coming down the pipeline around marijuana legalization. Two states, California and Colorado, will push for full legalization this year with a ballot iniative, and Washington or Oregon may as well.
One point that all of these states have in common that activists will have to overcome the already-passed Medical Marijuana laws in each of these states. One might think that simply because these laws are passed and marijuana is widely available, taking the next step should be easy. However, this state of affairs can actually hinder the legislative process for a number of reasons.
First and foremost (at least to the liberty-minded) is something that I covered in my piece on why Prop. 19 died in California: embedded interests who enjoy government protection from competition. When the California Cannibis Association came out against Prop 19, I knew we would have trouble. Many of these dispenseries have been around since the 1996 vote that legalized medical marijuana in California. They have paid for licenseing, most likely had to bribe a cop or two, and have only in the past few years actually begun to turn a profit. If marijuana were completely legalized, the floodgates of growers and dispenseries would crash open. This added competition would drive down prices, “hurting” older operations unwilling to change their business models — and they know it. So don’t be surprised if in both California and Colorado the current cannabis community doesn’t exactly jump on the bandwagon.
Another reason that a medical law can hurt full legalization is the atmosphere that the current laws create around the issue. By having medical marijuana laws combined with decriminalization it gives the people who think that we’ve gone far enough no reason to jump further (I believe this is why in the weeks before the Prop. 19 vote Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a decriminalization bill). How many videos do you see of DEA or Police agents being interviewed on the drug war where they say, “We don’t need to legalize it, we already don’t throw people in jail for marijuana anyways. Legalization would only allow kids to get it easier”? Despite the fact that the statement is wrong, it represents the attitude of many people. Ask anyone from the National Right to Work Committee how much of a burden paycheck protection is when trying to pass “Right to Work” laws. “We already allow you to block your dues from going to political donations, we don’t need to pass Right to Work,” is the most common response from union opposition.
These half measures allow politicians and citizens to squirm justifications out as to why they can oppose your stance. This is especially true of politicians who are looking for any justification they can use to save face and the status quo at the same time.
I can completely understand why many people push for medical marijuana laws. They help the sick and needy while at the same time cutting down the amount of people being locked up for victimless vices. However, we should look at these laws for what they are: a compromise.Published in