Lasting Marijuana Reform Nationally Depends On Colorado

COLORADO: The reactions recently from drug policy reform advocates to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the Department of Justice will not seek to challenge marijuana laws in states that have legalized have been predictable. While skeptical because of unkept promises from the administration in the past, they welcomed the news. What some may not realize, however, is that the real work begins now.

A very intellectual and very conservative (in the William F. Buckley sense of that term) attorney recently asked me what legalization advocates were going to do when President Obama leaves the White House. Curious, I asked him what he meant. He continued, “What will the legalization crowd do when that happens and the free pass is over?”

My friend was correct to call what has been granted by Obama and Holder a “free pass.” So far, the Obama administration and Congress have repealed zero criminal laws regarding marijuana. They have passed zero laws to protect Colorado and Washington, which legalized marijuana, or states that have allowed medical marijuana. If the Obama administration were to decide next week to launch a war on marijuana and states’ rights, they could easily do so because all the laws and enforcement mechanisms are still in place.

So what will the legalization crowd do when Obama leaves office and these guidelines no longer apply? My hope is that at that point they will be able to point to their exemplary record in Colorado and elsewhere at making the marijuana business a legitimate, regulated industry, and use that success as justification for broader policy change.

Those calling for legalization and regulation of marijuana are now part of the mainstream. Where marijuana is legal, folks who use the substance are no longer part of the counterculture. They are as “regular folk” as people who drink beer, smoke cigars or sip scotch. So they need to act mainstream. In fact, because of the past stigma associated with marijuana, they should think about how their actions will affect the entire future of drug policy reform. They must not be vigilant — they must be hyper-vigilant.

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