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Bill Press: Prohibition on pot

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Someday, we’ll look back on two federal prohibitions — on same-sex marriage and marijuana — and ask ourselves: “How were we ever so dumb? What’s the big deal?”

Indeed, more and more people are asking that question every day. Even before the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, several states moved to recognize same-sex marriage. Massachusetts was the first, in May 2004. Today, either by legislation or court order, marriage equality is the law in 19 states, plus the District of Columbia. Courts in 14 other states, most recently Virginia, have ruled to strike down bans on same-sex marriage. While those decisions remain on appeal, it’s clearly only a matter of time before all 50 states accept the fact that every American, gay or straight, should be free to marry the one he or she loves.

Efforts to end the ban on marijuana have not advanced nearly as fast, but they’re moving inexorably in that direction. Only two states so far, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Oregon and Alaska will vote this year whether to join them. But 34 states and the District of Columbia have moved to reform their laws, including the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and 17 states and the District have decriminalized marijuana, treating possession of small amounts of pot like a traffic ticket. Again, it’s only a matter of time before smoking a joint is considered no differently than popping a beer.

Legalizing pot has two big arguments in its favor. First, Colorado. It’s still too early to assess results in Washington, but the Colorado experiment is an unqualified success. There have been few problems with sales to minors, driving under the influence or transporting pot out of state. Meanwhile, as of July 11, the state had collected $25.3 million in sales taxes on pot, far ahead of projected revenue. Pot tourism has boosted the state’s economy. Other states are looking at Colorado and asking: “How can I get some of that gold?”

At the same time, public opinion has shifted dramatically pro-pot. As recently as 1991, according to the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of Americans thought marijuana should be illegal. Today, 54 percent favor legalization. There’s a Cannabis Caucus in the House. And President Obama, unlike Bill Clinton, admits he not only smoked pot, he inhaled. Says Obama: “That was the point.”

No doubt, more states will join Colorado and Washington. But Congress must first clear the way by overturning the prohibition against marijuana. After all, marijuana’s less dangerous than alcohol, and the ban on alcohol lasted only 13 years. The pot prohibition’s dragged on for 44 years, a total waste of law enforcement time and money. As with alcohol, the answer’s not to ban nationwide. The answer’s to leave it up to states to decide.

One more plus: think how lifting the ban on pot might also benefit Congress. Surely, Congress would get a lot more done if Republicans and Democrats would stop bickering and just get high together. 


Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.