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Marijuana Prohibition Is Hanging on by Its Final Thread -- There's a Bright Future on the Horizon

America will benefit to the tune of billions every year when we end one of our worst domestic policies since ... the prohibition of alcohol.

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A recent soundbite you’re sure to hear spouted by those who benefit from the “heck, let’s give it another 40 years and trillion dollars” view about the war on drugs claims that California’s not-for-profit medical cannabis system is being abused by profiteers. Or that medical cannabis activists really want full legalization. To these folks I say, “It’s called an economy. Tax it.”

The feds are, thus far, saying, “no thanks.” Under direct threat by Justice Department attorneys of not just more constituent raids but of personal prosecution themselves, Mendocino County supervisors canceled the 9.31 zip-tie program shortly after the raid on Cohen’s farm. For now. What a blow against the cartels, Uncle Sam! You just forced a retiree liver cancer patient to become another of their dissatisfied customers.

And yet Matt Cohen remains unflaggingly optimistic that good policy will win out. “December 5, 1933,” he told me again, when I visited his decimated and bankrupt farm after his raid. “One state at a time.”  

His now-stumpy acreage, still flanked by a framed local cultivation permit, a huge American flag and a local Chamber of Commerce membership certificate, looked like something out of The Lorax. Close to a million dollars of medicinal American agricultural production had been carted away in a dump truck.

On the ground, 56% of Americans believe this policy must change. Since Cohen’s raid, Connecticut has bid adieu to the drug war, and 15 other states have already decriminalized the plant for all uses. The 17 medical programs are extremely varied, from California’s broad, voter-approved, “any…illness for which marijuana provides relief” plan, to Colorado’s tightly regulated for-profit model, to Montana’s federally meddled-with program, to my home state of New Mexico’s legislature-created, humming-right-along one. That program serves, among thousands of others, a 63-year-old Vietnam War veteran neighbor of mine named Carl Reid. “Got me off pain killers,” he told me of his new medicine. “Gave me my life back.”

And that state-by-state regulatory variety is how it should be: Provos’s alcohol laws are different from Reno’s, because Utah is different than Nevada. What the programs have in common is that they work. They generate revenue while serving patients and improving public safety. Consequently, more and more state governments are requesting that the feds get out of the way because a) Americans have shown that they want cannabis, one way or another; b) Americans, not foreign cartels, should produce it; and c) the drug war, after raging 10 times longer than World War II, doesn’t work anyway.

Sometimes our chief drug warriors defensively pretend that they understand this. Memo to Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske: saying that you’re focusing drug war funding on education while devoting the highest amount ever to domestic enforcement -- $9.4 billion for fiscal 2013 -- isn’t fooling anyone. Nor is the ridiculous argument that children will have more access to cannabis when it’s regulated for adult use like alcohol. I gave a talk at a high school last week during which I asked the question, “How many of you in this auditorium believe it’s easier to get cannabis than alcohol?” Every hand went up. This confirms the obvious: regulated cannabis will lead to a decrease in cannabis use, as a recent Brown University study concluded.

In the course of my research, I came across some surprising (to me) states that have been at least debating the cannabis decriminalization issue or medical programs: Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Ohio and Alabama. Note to candidate advisers: ending the drug war is a politically safe issue in the heartland. Maybe they’ll wake up when they see the election returns in a few weeks.