First, 20 states and the District of Columbia passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical use. Then in 2012, voters in Washington state and Colorado approved measures legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana for non-medical use, with state oversight. Now at least a half-dozen states from Alaska to Maine are considering following suit.
Marijuana still remains a federally controlled substance, but Attorney General Eric Holder in January said the U.S. Justice Department soon would issue regulations to let state-sanctioned marijuana businesses have access to banking and credit.
Can full legalization be far behind? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, try to wrap their heads around the question.
The University of Colorado system reports a 30 percent increase in applications this year. University officials credit their new and improved application, along with better high school outreach.
But High Times magazine, a sort of Cigar Aficionado for stoners, has a different explanation: It’s the legal pot.
Can that really be true? A CU spokesman told the magazine he has a “hard time believing that someone is going to make that kind of significant decision about investing in their education based on whether they can smoke marijuana in the state” — which only suggests he hasn’t visited his Boulder campus recently, or knows very much about the law of unintended consequences.
More kids looking for a cheap and legal high are one such consequence. Here’s another: If you smoke pot and want to buy a gun in the Mile High State, odds are you will be turned down. Sure, marijuana use is legal under state law; but the federal government still considers it a crime, and no federally licensed firearms dealer would risk his business to make a point about states’ rights.
Fact is, Congress isn’t about to legalize pot, and Eric Holder won’t be attorney general forever. More states venturing down the path of legalization invites conflicts with the feds that nobody can foresee.
But the better argument against legalization is cultural, and it comes from an unlikely source: California Gov. Jerry Brown.
A Democrat with a reputation for wild ideas, Brown shared his skepticism about legalization on “Meet the Press” this month. “If there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
Brown is right. It may be the case that public opinion has shifted too far in favor of legalization. If so, then freedom must come with responsibility. Tax marijuana, certainly, but also let employers decide whether they want stoners on their payrolls, lay heavy penalties on sales to minors — and hope the unintended consequences aren’t too dire.