Once a subject of ridicule, not unlike the legalization of gay marriage, marijuana decriminalization is evolving to a policy position that is taken seriously by lawmakers at all levels of government. Indeed, the legalization of marijuana, and by extension the end of the War on Drugs, has been lynchpin policy positions for the Libertarian Party for quite some time.
According to a whitepaper issued by the Cato Institute recently, decriminalization of drugs in Portugal has had surprising benefits to Portuguese society writ large. Portugal in this case is a compelling illustrative example of what a countrywide decriminalization policy of what were once illicit drugs can look like. One benefit cited in the report that was of interest to me personally was the fact that overall drug usage among younger Portuguese has declined since decriminalization has been in effect.
However, here in the United States, the liberalization of marijuana laws to actual decriminalization is more complicated.
In the June 2013 issue of The Washington Lawyer, “Marijuana: Will it Ever Be Legal? States Lead the Charge as Opinion Shifts,” Kathryn Alfisi cites the challenges of the regulation, production, and sale of marijuana in the two states – Colorado and Washington – that have actually decriminalized it. Both states may be “embracing the potential revenue boost from recreational marijuana sales,” not to mention the lowered costs of not catching, convicting, sentencing and incarcerating a significant portion of their population for “victimless” crimes, etc.
However, the specter of Federal legal intervention lingers still over the states that have liberalized their marijuana laws. In spite of these mandates, possession of marijuana is still a class IV felony under Federal law, and this law has most certainly been enforced. This makes true marijuana decriminalization an “uncertainty” for now, but a likely guarantee in the future.
As peoples’ attitudes shift towards marijuana decriminalization, state laws will inevitably follow.
“I think we’re at a tipping point on marijuana. I think we’re going to legalize it. I think Colorado is going to lead the charge…I think that’s going to be the first to 50 state dominos that fall,” said Gary Johnson in an interview during the last election season.
Gary Johnson has been one of the few politicians to have actually admitted to smoking and (inhaling!) marijuana during a national election campaign.
The fact that Gary Johnson was able admit this with a straight face and in front of a national audience suggests that public opinion, as measured by the Pew Research Center, is starting to turn. For example, in 1969 only 12% of Americans favored legalization of marijuana, compared to today, as much as 52% Americans favor legalization of marijuana.
If current trends continue, and it looks like they will, it won’t be long before those dominos Gary Johnson was referring to will start to fall.