Ah, the great American West, where man can generally breathe free and also inhale — woman, too. Thank you, thank you, voters in Colorado and Washington state, for legalizing marijuana. But will Washington, D.C., leave you alone? Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that the Justice Department will weigh its response to the state referenda.
A new national poll finds 58 percent of Americans in favor of making marijuana legal and only 39 percent against. A raft of other state laws easing the prohibition on pot and growing public contempt for the existing law should be enough to change the policy. And so should a basic sense of decency.
We persecute ordinary Americans for using an illegal drug smoked by the last three inhabitants of the White House. President Obama admitted — and George W. Bush all but admitted — to having experimented (don’t you love the word “experimented”?) not only with pot, but with cocaine.
Courts rarely inflict heavy prison terms on users of marijuana these days, Tony Ryan, a retired lieutenant from the Denver Police Department, told me, “but it’s still a drug arrest, so if you’re 18 years and older, it goes on your record.”
That means you may not be able to get a job at a steel plant, join the Navy, obtain a student loan or keep your child in a custody battle. But wide knowledge that you smoked pot is apparently not enough to stop you from becoming commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces.
Ryan is on the board of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — former police and other law officers calling for the end to the War on Drugs. A Denver cop for 36 years, he’s intrigued at what the Obama administration will do next. In Colorado, the feds decided to mostly leave medical marijuana alone. But to flex their muscles, they started picking on medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools.
“I said, OK, what high school student is going to go to convince a doctor under threat of losing his license that he is ill and needs to have medical marijuana,” Ryan commented, “when he can just walk down the halls of the school and get whatever he wants?”
In 2008, candidate Obama said he would not use Justice Department resources to frustrate state laws allowing medical marijuana. But President Obama did just that, even letting attorneys general threaten government employees at state-run medical marijuana facilities.
Ignoring the scientific evidence, the feds deem marijuana a dangerous substance that allegedly acts as a “gateway” to harder drugs. The political reality is that legalizing marijuana is a gateway to ending the ludicrous War on Drugs — a $40 billion-a-year failure off which many Americans find employment. Last year, 80 percent of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s seizures were of marijuana. If marijuana were legalized, what would those agents, lawyers, judges and prison guards keeping us safe from marijuana do?
Oddly, liberal Democrats seem more afraid of letting go of the ban on marijuana than libertarian Republicans and even some social conservatives. (Evangelist Pat Robertson says it ruins the lives of too many young people.) In the Colorado vote, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, a hard-right Republican, supported the constitutional amendment regulating marijuana like alcohol, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed it. To his credit, Hickenlooper subsequently declared the amendment official and put a legalization advocate on the committee setting up a regulatory process.
The successful ballot measures in Colorado and Washington give the Obama administration another opportunity to find its bearings and stop throwing billions down the hole of marijuana prohibition. That money could be put elsewhere, so we’re told.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org