Polling suggests approval of state ballot measures in upcoming elections this year that would cause the number of states with legal medical marijuana to grow by three and with legal recreational marijuana to grow by one. Absent earlier legislative action in other states, recreational marijuana legalization approval in Michigan would make it the tenth state with such legalization, and medical marijuana legalization in Oklahoma and Utah, as well as Missouri where petition signatures for ballot measures have not yet been counted and verified, would bring the total number of states with legal medical marijuana up to 33. Tom Angell discusses in a Thursday Forbes article the polling indicating substantial majority support in these states for the respective forms of legalization the ballot measures include.
The movement of states to roll back marijuana prohibition, via ballot measures as well as bills approved by state legislatures and signed into law by governors, is a very important development for advancing respect for liberty in America. First, it significantly limits the war on drugs in America. That war on drugs has been a basis for the expansion of government power at the expense of people’s liberty and safety. Restraining or ending the war on marijuana in a state does not eliminate the war on many other drugs or all the terrible consequences of the broader drug war. But, it does provide relief from a portion of the broader drug war’s harms.
Second, rolling back marijuana prohibition at the state level provides an example for how states can withdraw from participation in aspects of dug prohibition pursued by the United States government, while demonstrating the nonsense of the Chicken Little arguments against ending prohibition. When people see that marijuana legalization, both medical and recreational, makes things better, they are more likely to consider that similar good results would come from ending the entire drug war.
Third, states going their own ways regarding marijuana laws are exercising an important check on the power of the US government. The Constitution defines the US government as having limited and enumerated powers, and provides no power to the US government to pursue drug prohibition. Nonetheless, the US government has pursued prohibition. While states may be powerless, short of war against the US, to stop the US government’s drug war, they can withdraw from participating in all of the drug war or any part of it — such as the war on marijuana. Without the cooperation of state and local police and judiciaries, as well as other state and local government resources, the US government lacks much of its prior ability to pursue the drug war.
Fourth, while Congress, successive presidents, and the US court system seem to have little interest overall in reducing the reach of US government power, states have shown through restraining marijuana prohibition that they can provide a check on expansive US powers. Let’s hope that marijuana law changes in states will lead to state actions to withdraw cooperation with the US government in areas beyond the war on drugs as well, thus limiting the power of the US government and expanding respect for liberty.