Yesterday, marijuana prohibitionists went 1-3 in ballot measures to re-legalize cannabis for recreational purposes. I use the term “re-legalize,” instead of “legalize,” because marijuana was legal throughout most of American history, with marijuana prohibition not sweeping the country until the 1920s and 1930s. Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC voters approved recreational marijuana, while a similar measure failed in Florida. Despite 57% of Florida votes in favor of re-legalization, at least 60% of votes were needed, as the measure was presented as an amendment to the state constitution.
The movement to end marijuana prohibition has been active since the Baby Boomers came of age in the 1960s, and became the first generation to make cannabis mainstream in North America, but it has only been in recent years that the majority of Americans have favored legalization. According to a 2014 Pew Research poll, 54% of Americans now favor legalized, recreational marijuana for adults.
I am proud to say that I was way ahead of the public opinion curve on the marijuana issue. Back in 1995, as a 22 year old law student, I participated in the Marijuana March on Independence Day in Washington DC. In those pre-internet days, two of my friends and I had simply driven to DC for the fireworks and free outdoor concerts, completely unaware of the annual DC “Smoke-Out,” and accompanying Marijuana March, but once we caught wind, we promptly joined the rally, and a friendly hippy girl handed us home-made signs to carry in the parade. And off we went down the streets of DC around the White House, chanting anti-prohibition slogans, loud enough for President “I Did Not Inhale” to hear. Rather than being met with hostility by large crowds of conservative-looking, red, white and blue clad people, many of whom would have been Fox News Viewers, if Fox News existed in 1995, we were greeted with smiles and even occasional cheers, as the curious tourists snapped photos of the demonstrators. I don’t think they supported our message as much as they were simply amused to witness firsthand a genuine Washington DC protest in action, and very non-threatening one at that.
Well, those of us who were young in the 1990s are now middle-aged, and the oldest Baby Boomers are now senior citizens. Among Gen Xers and Millennials, prohibitionists are a shrinking minority. It is only a matter of time before the rest of the country catches up to libertarian Alaska, progressive Oregon, Washington and Colorado, and ironically, our nation’s capital, but let us not forget that in the meantime, thousands of people each year continue to fall victim to outmoded, draconian marijuana prohibition laws.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He is a member of the NORML Legal Committee, and he has represented many victims of marijuana prohibition over the years. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Marijuana-Related-Offenses.shtml