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Pot Wins in a Landslide: A Thundering Rejection of America's Longest War

Voters dealt what may be a fatal blow to America's longest-running and least-discussed war -- the war on marijuana.
 
 
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On Tuesday, largely under the radar of the pundits and political chattering classes, voters dealt what may be a fatal blow to America's longest-running and least-discussed war -- the war on marijuana.

Michigan voters made their state the 13th to allow the medical use of marijuana by a whopping 63 percent to 37 percent, the largest margin ever for a medical marijuana initiative. And by 65 percent to 35 percent, Massachusetts voters decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing arrests, legal fees, court appearances, the possibility of jail and a lifelong criminal record with a $100 fine, much like a traffic ticket, that can be paid through the mail.

What makes these results so amazing is that they followed the most intensive anti-marijuana campaign by federal officials since the days of "Reefer Madness." Marijuana arrests have been setting all-time records year after year, reaching the point where one American is arrested on marijuana charges every 36 seconds. More Americans are arrested each year for marijuana possession -- not sales or trafficking, just possession -- than for all violent crimes combined.

And the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, with “drug czar” John Walters at the helm, has led a hysterical anti-marijuana propaganda campaign. During Walters' tenure, ONDCP has released at least 127 separate anti-marijuana TV, radio and print ads, at a cost of hundreds of millions of tax dollars, plus 34 press releases focused mainly on marijuana, while no fewer than 50 reports from ONDCP and other federal agencies focused on the alleged evils of marijuana or touted anti-marijuana campaigns.

Walters himself campaigned personally in Michigan against the medical marijuana initiative, calling it an "abomination" and claiming yet again that there is no evidence that marijuana has medical value -- an assertion flatly contradicted by at least four published clinical trials in just the last two years.

In Massachusetts, the state's political and law enforcement establishment lined up solidly against the marijuana decriminalization initiative, including both Republican and Democratic politicians and all 11 district attorneys -- several of whom actually admitted to having smoked marijuana. They warned of rampant drug abuse and crime should the measure pass, simply ignoring the fact that no such thing has happened in the 11 other states (including California, Ohio and New York) that have had similar laws for years.

Voters were having none of it, giving a thumping rejection to government officials’ lies and hysteria in both states. Americans have taken a hard look at our national war on marijuana and rejected it for the cruel, counterproductive disaster that it is.

The voters are right. Of over 872,000 arrests in one year, 89 percent are for possession only.

What has this gotten us? Not much. Marijuana arrests weren't the only thing that set a record last year. So did the number of Americans who have tried marijuana. Usage rates came down marginally in the last few years but are still higher than in the early 1990s. Marijuana is our nation's number one cash crop.

The one thing our costly and futile efforts to "eradicate" marijuana have accomplished is to create a boom for criminal gangs, to whom we've handed a monopoly on production and distribution. Unlike producers of legal drugs like beer, wine or tobacco, these criminals pay no taxes and obey no rules. Their illicit efforts despoil our national forests and bring violence and destabilization to Mexico.

For years, politicians who know our current marijuana laws make no sense have been afraid to change them for fear of political retribution. The voters' thundering rejection of our misguided war on marijuana shows that those fears are misplaced.

It's time for Congress and the new administration -- not to mention state governments around the country -- to listen to the public. It's time for a new approach.

Rob Kampia is executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC.

 
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