H1371, An Act to Regulate and Tax the Cannabis Industry, is scheduled for hearing before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts legislature. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at 1:00 PM in Room A-2 of the Statehouse in Boston. Here is a FAQ Sheet, and here is the notice to Massachusetts activists that went out on February 8, 2012.
Recent stirrings in Michigan and Montana recall important milestones toward the repeal of the Prohibition Amendment three generations ago.
For most of Prohibition, 1920 to 1933, alcohol was illegal under both state and federal law (except in Maryland, which never enacted state prohibition laws, and New York, where in 1923 a Republican legislature, trying to destroy Gov. Al Smith’s chances for the Presidency, repealed state prohibition; Smith called their bluff and signed the bill, but the Republicans may have been successful in the end as Smith never reached the White House). In 1930, the citizens of Massachusetts voted by a large margin to repeal the state’s prohibition law, and for the remaining three years of Prohibition, booze was illegal only under the federal Volstead Act as authorized by the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In 1933, eleven more states did the same thing, and one of them, California, went one step better: voters not only repealed the alcohol prohibition laws, but also enacted an amendment to the state constitution which provided that IF federal law were to change allowing the states to tax and regulate the production and distribution of alcoholic beverages, then the state government—as opposed to counties and municipalities—shall have the exclusive right to so tax and regulate, thus assuring a uniform statewide regulatory system and a lock on the new revenue by Sacramento.
What’s important is that these reforms in alcohol laws were not made by lawmakers, but rather the voters themselves, as politicians then ducked and weaved when it came to taking a stand on alcohol. The two sides of the public debate were the Wets and the Drys, but politicians were consistently Damp, afraid to declare themselves on either side of history.
In Michigan and Montana, driven by mendacious public officials who have blocked implementation of medical marijuana programs approved by the voters, activists are collecting signatures to put a constitutional amendment on November’s ballots that would establish the right to have and use (non-medical) cannabis responsibly. If they succeed, they will have done more than repeal cannabis prohibition: they will have prohibited marijuana prohibition, a stunningly remarkable achievement, and a courageous and inspiring effort even if they don’t make it.
To their great credit, the organizers of I-502 in Washington, have submitted the necessary signatures to the Secretary of State to assure its place on November’s ballot. The measure operates by folding cannabis taxation and regulation into the familiar scheme now used for the regulation and taxation of commerce in alcoholic beverages.
Producers may be licensed to grow and sell wholesale lots of marijuana only to licensed processors, who may sell it only to retailers regulated by the liquor control board. Growing, having and distributing marijuana, heretofore crimes, are declared by the measure not to be a criminal or civil offense under Washington state law if done so in accordance with the license. Producers and processors may not be retailers. A tax of 25% is due upon transfer of product from one licensee to another.
What’s most significant about the measure is not its particulars. Rather, it is that approval by the voters will force a long-overdue showdown with the feds, forcing the federal government to defend prohibition. The contenders will not be the DEA vs. dispensaries. The contenders will be the White House (by default of Congress) vs. the State of Washington. I-502 is a referendum on prohibition. For the first time ever, Washington voters will have an opportunity to step into the privacy of a voting booth and declare what they really think about the marijuana laws.
The demise of prohibition is in plainer view.
The Daily Beast has a breezy new piece by Anneli Rufus, surveying recent “scientific studies” on pot, some pro-, some con-. What’s remarkable is that this piece was published at all, with such flair and cheerful skepticism. Does it signify an Awakening, at long last, of the media to the BS that sustains prohibition, now that the readers, listeners and viewers are starting to get it? Brava to editor Tina Brown, who leads the edge of everything she touches.
In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health and released to the press by the American Medical Association, researchers determined that long-term marijuana use did not impair pulmonary function in humans. The results of the study are not remarkable; indeed, if it were otherwise, bodies would have been piling up for years, as Ed Brecher (author of Licit and Illicit Drugs, 1972), used to say. What’s remarkable is that the U.S. Government funded a study that did not report only adverse effects of marijuana. This is an extraordinary development, suggesting that NIS, at long last, may no longer be willing to carry the water for prohibition, and is willing to put science before politics.
The news from Canada is that the Liberal Party, one of the three major political parties, has endorsed regulation and taxation of the cannabis industry. Over the next few months, expect party activists and leaders to acknowledge gradually that the resolution has attracted popular support, not repelled it, whereupon the other parties will follow, and Canada will help lead the US out of the dark realm of prohibition.
The big news from the Bay State is that a proposed medical marijuana initiative has been filed with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office for the November, 2012, ballot. There are hurdles to be crossed before it reaches the ballot, including the defense of a probable challenge from the Massachusetts Attorney General, who is extremely intolerant on all matters marijuana. If the organizers get past that hurdle, then they have a lot of signatures to collect and verify. The legislature will have a chance to pass it too, before it goes to the voters. I have put up a website page on this topic and will follow developments closely.
The measure is apparently being financed by an out-of-state benefactor, and will be run by a professional PR firm in Boston. This reminds me of 1928, when the AAPA, the leading anti-prohibition organization, was taken over by Pierre DuPont and other titans of American industry, moving the well-meaning and impassioned amateurs aside. They managed to amend the U.S. Constitution in five short years, a remarkable achievement, and an unlikely one if the amateurs remained in charge.
When full legalization is achieved, our first task will be to erect a monument to medical marijuana.
A few weeks ago, I had occasion to spend an evening with a retired cop, whose career had been devoted in no small part to the enforcement of laws we both now agreed should be repealed. It began, he told me, in the 70s when the mayor of his city received complaints about people smoking pot in public, especially parks where families were present. The mayor called the chief, and the chief produced results, by sending their youngest man to hang out in bars and concerts to bust small-time dealers. The more people they arrested, the more publicity they got, the more their budgets expanded, and that meant equipment, promotions and glory (and, apparently, later remorse).
As for the clamor for arrests, I asked if there had been a spike in auto accidents, or ER admissions, or any other adverse effects on public health or public safety. “Of course not,” he chuckled. “It was about seeing people smoking pot in public.” In other words, it was not the effects of marijuana consumption, but the visibility of marijuana consumption that drove their campaign against the weed.
With that tale in mind, consider the latest formulation of legalization, this one from Colorado. Sensible Colorado has proposed an amendment to the state constitution declaring legal, among other acts, “Consumption of marijuana, provided that nothing in this section shall permit consumption that is conducted openly and publicly… .” This language is deftly crafted so as not to preclude the possibility of legal public use under some circumstances in the future, when public attitudes about marijuana, post-repeal, have metamorphosed, and when candor will no longer threaten one’s liberty. But, it allows them to trumpet the fact that the amendment “does not legalize public use.”
The Colorado measure is certainly not the first to declare respect for existing prohibitions on public use (most do), but deserves mention for its prominence in the text.
We can go on and on about how legalization best protects the public health and safety, but controlling visibility of marijuana use–offensive though that may be to some consumers–is a small price to pay for the retirement of criminal sanctions.
The recent introduction of HR 2306, by Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul, is hugely significant. It does for marijuana what the 21st Amendment did for alcohol, removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, and recognizing the right of states to prohibit or control commerce in marijuana. Enactment of such a measure will be necessary if states are to tax and regulate without fear of federal interference.
It’s called the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011.” I love it that the term “marijuana prohibition” is included, but I would have called it the “Right To Tax Act of 2011,” broadcasting the prospect of new revenue to states and municipalities.
Congressmen Frank and Paul are heroic to introduce it, and deserve the acclaim and gratitude of the nation. It is the necessary first step to the repeal of federal marijuana prohibition.