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Making Something Out of Next to Nothing

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CJLF takes no position on the legalization of marijuana.  I'm opposed to it for a variety of reasons, including that legalization is sure to increase usage, which will lead to more health problems for users and more accidents and injuries to non-users, from impaired driving and other causes.  Simply because we tolerate the bad effects of alcohol and tobacco hardly strikes me as a good reason to make it a trifecta by adding pot to the list.  To the contrary, I believe we should be more circumspect, not more carefree, before we pave the way for more public health problems.  I also worry about the complacent message this will send to teenagers, who I assure you are listening.

But the purpose of this post is not to make the anti-legalization argument.  It's to point out that the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot.  Much is being made, for example, of the referenda legalizing pot, as a matter of state law, in Washington and Colorado (legalization was roundly rejected in Oregon, something you don't hear nearly as much about).  See, e.g., the heated discussion on Sentencing Law and Policy.

What gets missed in all the hullabaloo is that the referenda will effect almost no change in what actually goes on, either in court or in daily life.  The reason for this is that the new state rules include restrictions that seldom get reported, but are actually quite important in determining what state enforcement will look like from now on.
Thus, the following language in a story on a Denver TV station caught my eye (emphasis added):

Just over a month after the citizens of Colorado voted overwhelmingly in favor of Amendment 64 to legalize marijuana for recreational use, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper signed the Executive Order that makes an "official declaration of the vote."

What does it mean?

"It formalizes the amendment as part of the state Constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults 21 years of age and older," the Governor's office wrote in a press release.

That said, the release went on to say that that it is still illegal to buy or sell marijuana or to consume marijuana in public.

Hello!!!  It's still illegal to buy it or sell it or smoke it in public??  Then someone needs to fill me in on what the big change is.  Before now, how much actual enforcement was there of state pot laws when nothing was being bought or sold, and the joint puffing or bong sucking was going on in private?

If any of our readers has a specific, documented answer to that question, I'd be interested in knowing.  My strong intuition, from many years as a prosecutor, is that there was next to no enforcement in those circumstances, and everyone knew it.

Here's the truth that no one seems to want to speak:  Simple possession of user-only amounts of pot consumed in private was already de facto legal.  Yes, a law against it was on the books, and yes, a very, very few times someone might have gone to jail for its violation, but for any practical purpose, if you weren't dealing and you sat peaceably in your den toking up, absolutely nothing law enforcement-related was going to happen.

The legalization lobby is all giddy about what it claims was the start of the revolution. It was a victory, no doubt about that. But a revolution needs to consist of something more than what's been going on for years anyway. 


1 Comment

I don't know about Colorado, but the NYPD's abuse of "public display" laws as an excuse to arrest those they were unable to get for other reasons is well documented. That's enforcement in the category you were talking about: no buying or selling was going on, and no smoking was happening in public.

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