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Liberty is Starting to Win the Drug War

The Prospects for Cannabis Legalization over the Next 5 Years

Written by Geoffrey Pike
Posted November 12, 2015

legalitI have been making a case for cannabis legalization in terms of individual liberty, as well as economic freedom. But what are the chances of us seeing widespread legalization in the near future?

If you look at public opinion today versus what it looked like 10 years ago, it is actually quite amazing what has taken place. It was a major struggle for states just to legalize medical marijuana then. It amazed me then just how many people (usually a majority in most polls) could be against someone using a drug for medicinal purposes to relieve pain and help healing.

And if a state did manage to get enough support to legalize medical marijuana, then it was a face-off with the federal government. It was a conflict between state law and federal law, even though the federal drug laws are unconstitutional.

When Obama was first running for president, he vowed to take a more hands-off approach in regards to the federal war on drugs, especially when it came to medical marijuana in states that legalized it. But like many campaign promises, it was quickly broken.

But over the last few years, Obama – or the powers that be – really has pulled back the attack dogs. I’m not sure that it is out of respect for states’ rights and humanitarian reasons so much as for political reasons. But even if it is purely political, this is good news. It means the federal government will actually back off on certain things if public opinion is strong enough.

It is quite encouraging that Colorado and other states that have legalized marijuana – at least to a certain extent – have been mostly left alone by the federal bureaucracies in Washington DC.

Don’t get wrong here; there are still major problems. There are banking laws that essentially prohibit marijuana dispensaries to use the banking system for their businesses. This creates a lot of headaches and unintended consequences.

We also don’t know what the next president and administration will do once in office. It is always unpredictable. Still, the hope is that the cat is already out of the bag.

I have people tell me that the government will shut down the internet one day. I think the chances are quite remote. If the government were going to shut down the internet, it probably would have had to do so before 1997. What politician would dare try to shut down the internet and take responsibility for it or even defend it? Politicians don’t like violent revolutions and that might be one of the few things that could cause one.

We are heading the same way with marijuana legalization. As it becomes more widely accepted and more states move towards legalization, it makes it harder for the federal government to come in with SWAT raids. At some point, it just becomes really bad politics.

We can’t say for sure, but the trend right now is for the federal government to step aside and let states decide their own fates, at least for the question on marijuana and cannabis.

Look at Ohio, Not Canada

A proposition to legalize marijuana in Ohio was recently on the ballot. It was defeated. But before we turn pessimistic on the basis of this vote, let’s consider what this proposition was really about.

The “legalization” came with a lot of caveats. All of the states that have legalized or partially legalized marijuana have had caveats. But this Ohio proposition was especially bad, as it would have granted a monopoly to a small group of (mostly wealthy) farmers in the state for growing cannabis. This would be like ending alcohol prohibition by only allowing Budweiser to sell you beer.

This Ohio proposition was cronyism at its worst. For this reason, even many libertarians and liberals opposed the measure. We can be sure that a majority of the people voting against the proposition did so because they simply oppose legalization. But the cronyism factor mattered on the margin, and it may have been the difference between passing and failing for the initiative.

If you want to see a more recent example of where marijuana legalization is headed, Americans just need to look to the north. Canadians have spoken quite clearly on this issue.

The incoming Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, along with his party, have been advocating the legalization of marijuana. While it wasn’t the only issue at play, it was one of the big ones. And the people in Canada are obviously not too afraid of the idea.

Even in Mexico, known for its drug gangs and horrible drug war, apparently people are seeking to try something different, as there is now talk of legalizing marijuana.

This is the trend. More and more countries around the world are legalizing or considering legalizing marijuana. More and more states are also following the trend in the U.S.

There are currently 23 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have some form of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, but most of them are for medical purposes only. None of them are perfect in terms of total liberty, but it is a great improvement from 10 years ago.

Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon have all essentially legalized marijuana and the plant it is derived from. Again, it is not full legalization, as the laws come with many caveats and limits, but we are headed the right way.

Even in Georgia, where marijuana is definitely illegal, there was recent legislation passed that allows the possession of up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil.

USA Today identified the next 11 states most likely to legalize marijuana as California, Nevada, Minnesota, New York, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine. These states tend to have lax marijuana laws where penalties for possession tend to be minor. Small fines are common for possession of small amounts, as opposed to jail time.

Even across the world, legalization is gaining more acceptance. Cannabis is legal in Uruguay. Possession of marijuana is legal in the Netherlands. It is also mostly legal in Spain. Many countries have gone at least one step towards decriminalization.

Liberty and Decentralization

While we can never be sure of what the next politician will do, we have reasons to be optimistic that this drug will start being treated as other nearly harmless drugs.

All drugs can be harmful if misused and abused. But marijuana is probably one of the least harmful drugs in existence. You can bet that more people die from Tylenol than they do from marijuana.

By 2020, it would not be surprising if a majority of states have legalized cannabis to some extent or another. Possession of small amounts will likely be decriminalized almost everywhere in the United States, except perhaps a few really conservative states, probably in the south.

While we should encourage individual liberty everywhere, we must respect the states that do not support legalization. We can use persuasion to change public opinion, but we should not attempt to use any outside entities, particularly the federal government, to force legalization.

As with so many other issues, this should be decentralized. It is no business of the federal government. It is also silly to have the federal government setting the policy for 320 million people.

The sky is not falling for the states that have legalized. If anything, it leads to more peace, less crime, less imprisonment, and more choice for consumers.

Liberty is slowly winning out on this issue.

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