Elections Have Consequences: It’s Time for the Obama Administration to Acknowledge That Marijuana Prohibition Doesn’t Work
Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation’s nearly century-long experiment with pot prohibition and replacing it with regulation. The historic votes on Election Day in Colorado and Washington, where, for the first time ever, a majority of voters decided at the ballot box to abolish cannabis prohibition, underscore this political reality. But is the Obama administration listening? It ought to be. In Washington legalizing marijuana got the same percentage of the vote as Obama did, and in Colorado cannabis got more votes than Obama — by a wide margin.
Americans are turning their backs on marijuana prohibition in record numbers for a variety of reasons. The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties and disproportionately affects communities of color. Furthermore, the criminalization of cannabis simply doesn’t work.
Despite more than 70 years of federal pot prohibition, Americans’ consumption of and demand for cannabis is here to stay. Voters’ passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington acknowledges this reality. These measures seek to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises, and to impose new, common-sense regulations governing cannabis’ personal use by adults and licensing its production. Unlike the federal government, which continues to define cannabis as an illegal commodity that is as dangerous as heroin, most voters recognize that a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for limited, licensed production and sale of cannabis to adults but restricts use among young people best reduces the risks associated with its use or abuse.
Yet to date, the president and the Attorney General have remained largely silent regarding whether they intend to respect the will of the voters and allow these nascent laws to move forward unimpeded by federal interference. Speaking with ABC’s Barbara Walters, Obama stated, “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal. … We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” But the federal government never has prioritized targeting and prosecuting minor marijuana offenders, a fact that largely renders Obama’s pledge meaningless.
The far bigger issue, which remains unaddressed by the administration, is . . .