Throughout the Cold War, the prevailing fear of United States government was the domino effect. Simply put, if even one country fell to communism, it could start a chain reaction that would quickly consume the remainder of the free world in a totalitarian dragnet. This led to a doctrine of containment, wherein the U.S. government would intervene in virtually any country, by any means necessary, to prevent the transition to a communist system. There were full-scale wars in Korea and Vietnam, coups in Guatemala, Iran, and the Republic of Congo, and a host of other clandestine operations meant to undermine Soviet influence around the world.
In much the same way, the U.S. government has been engaging in a doctrine of containment – or at least they’ve been trying – for the better part of four decades regarding the drugs. They’ve militarized state and local police forces, launched full-scale military operations, and employed the U.S. Coast Guard to combat drugs. They capture drug dealers in sting operations, prosecute young and old alike, and have jailed millions of non-violent individuals, all in an effort to stamp out freedom of choice and rights to private property.
The first indicator that some of the dominos were going to fall happened during the 1990s, when people began buying and selling marijuana for medicinal use. Starting with California in 1996, a number of states even partially decriminalized the banned plant when they realized that containment would be ineffective. Over the course of the next decade eighteen states and the District of Columbia passed legislation that meant medical marijuana users would be left alone. That is to say the state governments wouldn’t harass users, but the Feds kept up the pressure, and continued with their futile attempt to control that sector of the economy.
And then the people of two states, Colorado and Washington, decided to up the ante. Earlier this month they passed legislation that would allow pot smokers to freely use marijuana without the threat of kidnapping and prosecution from state bureaucrats. Almost overnight prosecutors in Colorado and Washington began dropping cases that solely involved possession charges.
King County, Washington for example, is dismissing more than two hundred and twenty cases, as The Washington Times reports. In Peirce County, the prosecutor said “about four dozen” cases will be dropped, when he was asked about how the law would impact his caseload. It should also be noted that in both states, one ounce is the “legal limit” for possession, so if there were no arbitrary limits, it’s likely that many more individuals would be released and could go about their business.
Not only will these individuals be free from prison, but the various levels of government can go back to fighting actual crimes again. It also stands to reason that taxpayers will be relieved of the added burden of paying for the housing, feeding, guarding, and other expenses associated with the prison system. However, this last point will certainly be a tough issue, as governments rarely give up what they’ve previously taken.
Now, all of this is to be celebrated, for sure. But the really good news is just around the corner. Already legislators in four states, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, have indicated they will present similar legislation in the coming session to follow Colorado and Washington. It was two years before another state joined California, and four years before six states had partially decriminalized marijuana.
Said Robert Capecchi, who works with the Marijuana Policy Project, “With these thoughtful legislators in at least four states planning on introducing sensible proposals to remove criminal penalties and regulate marijuana… it’s clear that ending marijuana prohibition is gaining momentum.” Truly, the dominoes are falling.
Another positive aspect of these changes to the legal code is that we ought to see even fewer cases go trial, and not just those involving possession of one ounce. The Seattle Times reported that in King County, where Seattle sits, the prosecutor plans on leaving “a buffer for those whose scales are less than accurate.” And in Boulder, Colorado, the District Attorney said that the new law would have a minimal effect, “because his office already considers marijuana a low priority.” This should become the trend, where prosecutors become increasingly reluctant to charge people who are close to the limit, since it is after all an arbitrary number.
Obviously, in a truly free society regulation of marijuana would exist only in terms of market actors agreeing to mutually beneficial terms, but the latest developments are entirely in line with how a federal system is supposed to function. There is nothing related to drugs or alcohol within the constitution, therefore the states or the people are to be left alone and decide for themselves how to handle such issues, and they have.
It’s also important to note that none of those states allowed medical marijuana, or gave their permission for individuals to use it, and nor did the voters; individuals own their bodies and have the freedom to use them in any way they choose. The coming months should be exciting, as the citizens of Colorado and Washington begin to enjoy some of their freedom once again, and others begin to join them. As they say, “let a thousand (cannabis) flowers bloom.”