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The Future of Pot: Is Legalization Around the Corner In Colorado and Washington?

While Americans are becoming increasingly aware of prohibition's consequences, the legalization movement still has many obstacles to overcome.

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Jeffrey Steinborn strongly doubts that the federal government will ever legalize marijuana, given “the lock” that the pharmaceutical and law-enforcement lobbies have on Congress. The best solution, he believes, would be for the states simply to repeal any criminal penalties for marijuana—and “then we can talk about regulation.”

There is a historical precedent, he notes: In 1932, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 61, repealing the state’s alcohol-prohibition law. A little more than a year later, the 21st Amendment repealed national Prohibition.

Holcomb sees “an acceleration toward change.” Most Americans have a negative view of marijuana, she says, but they are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of the laws against it: the 47,000 Mexicans killed in the last five years as drug gangs battle for control of the smuggling market, the huge numbers of people sent to prison, and the racial disparities in drug arrests. Seattle is only 8% black, she notes, but more than half the people arrested for marijuana there in the first half of 2010 were

If there’s no confrontation, nothing changes, opines Dominic Holden. “It demands a fight,” he says. “We need to challenge it by passing laws that fly in the face of prohibition. We need to win the argument in the court of public opinion. As long as we have the fight, we’re changing people’s minds.”

People need to believe that legalization is possible, he says, “and once you put a proposal on a state ballot, it doesn’t seem so quixotic any more.”

Steven Wishnia is a New York-based journalist and musician. The author of Exit 25 Utopia and The Cannabis Companion , he has won two New York City Independent Press Association awards for his coverage of housing issues.