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As you probably know by now, Colorado has, for all intents and purposes, gone legal for recreational marijuana use. The great state of Washington is set to go later this year.
There are strong opinions on every possible angle of this. The actions of Colorado and Washington have huge ramifications for the rest of America.
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I think smoking pot is a monumental waste of time, so I don't do it. However, I am not at all interested in keeping you from it. If America can regulate, tax and sell alcohol and tobacco - two wildly addictive and potentially harmful substances - you would think legalizing marijuana shouldn't be an insurmountable hurdle.
I think it will be a slow and costly process.
Is marijuana any better or worse than the aforementioned celebrated intoxicants? If you ask this question, you are met with decades of America's back pages. The "war on drugs" is not only a deeply invested revenue stream, it allows law enforcement incredible bending and stretching of probable cause and violations of protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment. This room to move keeps the road to incarceration a permanent fast track. The amount of returns lost by the for-profit prison system if more states go legal for weed will be massive. A lot of time and money has been invested in this war.
Tobacco use has been enshrined in badassity. How many small cigars did Clint Eastwood go through shooting all his Westerns? Alcohol is also good to go. Advertisements for the stuff usually show hot-looking people enjoying themselves, no doubt gearing up for a night of amazing sex with one or more fellow inebriates.
Alcohol and tobacco are very important to the American identity. They are macho, kickass, old-school, working-class and, most important, eternally conjoined with violence.
Marijuana is a much, much harder sell. Yes, white Americans smoke it by the ton, literally, but there is still a widely held and energetically maintained perception that it's a black/brown (and obviously criminal) man's stimulant. Now that some weed companies are publicly traded, watch that change.
For some parents, the thought of their kid drunk is cause for concern but the idea that they smoked weed and are high reeks of failure. For a moment, imagine what Eastwood's image would be if, in one scene in High Plains Drifter, he was smoking a joint. Clint Eastweed would indeed be the "man with no name" but only because he couldn't remember it. It is hard to be a tough guy when you're stoned. Weed changes everything. Can you imagine Dick Cheney and his two daughters smoking out?
Have you ever seen the 60-plus-page pamphlet issued in 1997 by the state of Utah, "How Parents Can Help Their Children Live Marijuana-Free"? I met a guy who took two from Orrin Hatch's office and gave me one. From page 28, under the heading "Social Signs of Regular Users":
"Interest in Ras Tafari (sic) religion. (Marijuana use is part of that religion.)"Extreme rebelliousness, à la James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause."Excessive preoccupation with social causes, race relations, environmental issues, etc."
Another thing that makes all of this so interesting is that on the federal level, marijuana is not only an illegal drug, under the Controlled Substances Act, it is a Schedule I Controlled Substance, right there with heroin and LSD. So Colorado has basically thumbed its nose at the Obama administration and given Attorney General Eric Holder a very public wedgie.
Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole are trying to make it seem like it's all going according to plan but Colorado called out the feds and the feds blinked. This is the 10th Amendment at work. (If you want to get an extremely interesting take on the 10th, check out the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, penned by Jefferson.)
Holder and Cole state that their main concern is protecting minors from easy access to marijuana. I am far more concerned with protecting minors from teaching to the test and abstinence-only sex ed.
It is very difficult to tell Americans that they can't do something. Look at how well Prohibition (a costly nightmare that got a lot of people killed) worked. The legalization/decriminalization of weed is the same thing, but the long money has been invested in keeping possession punishable. Like renewable energy and other science-y/progressive efforts, the "weed is bad" apple cart won't be easily tipped.
Don't expect to see Colorado in a stage of siege now that smoking marijuana is kinda sorta legal there. There are rules. You have to be 21 (and still smoking weed?!), you must have Colorado ID to prove it and you can only buy an ounce at a time. Same thing for visitors, who can purchase a quarter ounce but must smoke it inside the state. Enjoying your stash is limited to private property and not "openly or publicly."
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There are still a lot of details to iron out in Colorado. Marijuana retailers are having difficulty setting up bank accounts. This will make for a lot of cash on hand, which could lead to some criminal activity.
Change is hard but the times are indeed changing. It will be difficult for hardliners to stomach the fact that Cheech & Chong and Cypress Hill were visionaries and that one of the greatest songs of all time is called "Dopesmoker (63 minutes)" by California's very own Sleep. Life is full of irony ... and weed. Put that in your pipe, Eric.