The Department of Justice's shift to a hands-off approach to marijuana will have big ripple effects. PHOTO: Reuters
The Department of Justice (DOJ) made history today by announcing that states with laws legalizing marijuana in one form or another will be allowed to proceed within certain parameters. The news hits hardest in Colorado and Washington, which both voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, but it also seems to signal a shift away from the DOJ’s practice of raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.
So, what happens now? No one knows, dear reader, but this is a seismic shift in the failed War on Drugs, and there will be ripple effects. Here are 5 of the most likely:
1. Oregon & Vermont Among Most Likely To Be Next To Legalize Marijuana
Many states have pondered legalizing marijuana, but backed off partly because they didn’t want to pick a fight with the Department of Justice. Now that the DOJ has officially backed off, the barriers to legalization have lowered at a time when support for marijuana legalization is at an all time high. Expect a slew of ballot referenda in 2014 and 2016. Legislatures may even get in on the act.
Which states are the most likely to take the plunge and legalize marijuana for recreational use? Oregon, Vermont and Maryland are states to watch, and keep an eye on Nevada and California as well.
2. Support For Marijuana Legalization Will Continue To Climb
The official thumbs up from the Department of Justice won’t directly convince too many people that marijuana legalization is a good idea, but it will have the softer effect of mainstreaming the concept. It makes a huge difference when the people arguing for legal marijuana aren’t just grungy hippies, but important people in suits.
3. The Economics of Legalization Will Start To Impress On State Governments
The revenue increase from taxes off legalized marijuana is often cited as a reason to let the people smoke, but this concept has remained abstract. Soon, Colorado and Washington will have lines on their budgets saying how many millions of dollars they took in from legal marijuana. Balancing state budgets is difficult and has more potential political costs than gains. An infusion of many millions of green from green may start to sway legislators who are agnostic on the issue.
4. 2016 Just Got More Interesting
Previous presidential candidates (who have any chance of becoming president), have brushed off the question of legalizing marijuana with a “I’m opposed, and I didn’t enjoy it when I tried it.” By 2015, when we get our slate of presidential candidates, the more liberal Democrats and the more libertarian Republicans may choose a different answer. Expect a few people with real chances to be president to go at least as far as allowing the states to do what they will with marijuana. Furthermore, expect the issue of marijuana to be more awkward for the more status quo candidates (read: Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie).
5. Full Legalization Looks A Lot Closer On The Horizon
One day, marijuana will be legal in the United States. Of course, activists in the 60s and 70s were saying that, with the expectation that the day would come soon. The liberal movement that forced Richard Nixon to start the Environmental Protection Agency was beaten back by the Reagan Revolution, but the liberal bounce back has been slower, steadier and ultimately longer lasting. Legalization won’t happen on its own, however. It will come from poll results, activism and decisions from people in power. The decision made by Eric Holder took legalization one giant step toward the still-distant finish line.