High expectations for Colorado law

January 2, 2014

Smoking marijuana – for any reason, not just a medical one – became legal in Colorado this week. Later this year, Washington state will follow suit, but for the time being, all eyes are on Colorado and its grand experiment in personal freedom.

Expectations are as high as some of the people making them, but they vary depending on point of view:

• State government officials expect a windfall in revenue from the 25 percent tax on the weed;

• Chambers of commerce anticipate a proliferation of new job-creating businesses;

• Police expect to be busier than ever issuing tickets for smoking weed in public, underage indulgence, supplying it to minors and black-market sales;

• Marijuana enthusiasts expect no problems, that everything will be, like, really cool, man;

• Patients who have been buying and using marijuana as medicine anticipate much higher prices and shortages of supply;

• Addiction counselors and some physicians expect to see a rise in marijuana addiction, particularly among young people.

It is far too early to guess the results of the experiment, but it’s the right time to congratulate Colorado and Washington for undertaking it.

The decades-long war on drugs has been an enormously costly failure, in part because marijuana was included in it, lumped in with much more dangerous and addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin. During this time, it became evident that problems associated with marijuana use were less consequential than the effects of using legal substances like tobacco and alcohol, and that the greater problem was the criminal activity associated with the distribution and sale of marijuana.

Marijuana possession and distribution did not become a federal crime until 1937. Some states began to decriminalize pot in recent decades, and then to allow its use as medicine. Colorado and Washington were the first states to openly defy the federal ban.

In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced, however, that the Department of Justice would not intervene and let the states implement laws allowing for the legal use of marijuana by adults, both of which were approved by voters in ballot initiatives in November 2012.

We are a nation dedicated to individual liberty; we tolerate self-destructive behavior in defense of it. Though tens of thousands die each year from smoking tobacco, we would not think of making it an illegal drug. Nor would we alcohol, responsible for so many traffic deaths and so much craziness. The one attempt to banish alcohol, Prohibition, which stretched from 1920 to 1933, was a legendary fiasco that was met with defiance and derision by large swatches of the populace.

We have rushed to legalize all kinds of gambling, despite the social consequences. How odd, then that we still outlaw marijuana. How often have we read in this newspaper’s Police Beat of crashes, fights, beatings and accidents resulting from alcohol use, and how seldom have we read of these incidents occurring as a result of smoking pot?

We are eager to observe the effect of Colorado’s new law and hope that the experience guides other states to move toward sensible regulation and away from the costly practice of filling their jails with marijuana users.



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