On multiple occasions I have had conversations with some tokers who criticize the marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado. “Only an ounce?” they’ll complain, “That’s not true legalization! Since when did anybody limit beer drinkers on how much they can purchase? And no home grows? I can home brew beer, can’t I?”
As the debate over marijuana legalization changes from “if” to “how”, supporters of the herb are faced with some difficult political calculus. Legalization supporters in Colorado had to support a plan that included the right of localities to ban marijuana businesses. Now over 100 towns, including the state’s second-largest city, Colorado Springs, have enacted bans.
Worse, legalization supporters in Washington had to support a plan that forbade home growing, enacted an unscientific 5ng DUID limit, and taxed marijuana at 25% at three levels. The cannabis community in the Evergreen State was deeply split over supporting this form of legalization, with many I-502 detractors complaining that the legalization law would severely impact the existing medical law, a prediction that seems to be coming true.
However, the benefits of current legalization, no matter how limited, cannot be denied. Tens of thousands of people who would have criminal records now do not. This isn’t just the people who would have been popped for holding less than an ounce; records show marijuana prosecutions of all types are down dramatically in both legal states. Then there are the political ramifications, from the Gallup Poll jumping 10 points in public support for legalization to elected officials finally speaking out for legalization. Legalization - no matter how limited it is - became a reality that shattered the prohibitionists’ fears of a Stoner Apotcalypse.
Marijuana is not truly legal until an eighteen-year-old can smoke it, grow it, sell it, and buy it without limit. If you’re old enough to vote for the leader of this land, and you’re old enough to tote an Army rifle in the sand, you’re old enough to toke a freakin’ joint in your hand. Public marijuana use should be no more restricted than tobacco and alcohol use and probably less restricted. But political realities mean age 21 toking rules and severely restricted marijuana will be the viable first steps that can be achieved toward true legality.
I will support any legislative effort to end the criminality of marijuana, but we’d be fools to demand legalization parameters that polling shows have no chance of passing. In 2012, as Washington and Colorado passed limited legalization, Oregon proposed wide-open legalization that would have allowed a backyard full of pot plants and a basement full of pot bales. Voters rejected that overreach, but now, reacting to the legalization in two other states, Beaver State voters may be choosing between one plan that offers 8 ounces and 4 plants and another plan that offers 24 ounces and 24 plants.
A great legalization law will legalize personal possession and cultivation without limits, regulate marijuana commerce without exorbitant taxes, and free all non-violent pot prisoners and expunge their criminal records. But it can’t be a great law if it doesn’t pass. I believe the most important part of legalization is personal possession, for it makes marijuana no longer contraband and the sight and smell of it and paraphernalia are no longer probable cause for a cop to ruin my day. Achieve that and the cultivation, commerce, taxation, and amnesty issues become easier to achieve. But if holding out to solve those issues within a legalization plan dooms personal possession, we make no progress in solving any of those issues.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of "The Russ Belville Show."