Something very important happens on Tuesday when America comes to vote – but the epoch-making decision isn’t Obama versus Romney. Rather it is happening in three states where people will get a chance to vote in a referendum to legalise marijuana. The states are Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
If the measures are passed, adults over 21 would be able to possess, distribute and use small amounts. Cannabis for authorised medical use is already permitted and regulated by each state, even though it is against federal law.
Support is particularly strong in Washington and Colorado, but a “yes” vote in any of the states would be interpreted by the Department of Justice as an act of defiance against the federal government’s war on drugs – the national law enforcement programme that spends $44bn a year struggling to stem the tide of illegal drugs in the US.
In June 2011, however, the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared that the war on drugs had failed.
As a British subject resident over here, I do not get a vote, but if I did live in any of these states, my vote would certainly be for liberalisation. I have written on this before now, so it should not come as a suprise to anyone. (See here and here and here)
I note from the report that several retired cops are in favour of legalisation, and the pros and antis do not divide along expected party lines. Like all reasonable people, I want to see drug use decline; I think that in the long term there is a fair chance of this happening if drugs are legalised. I am sure that there is no chance of this happening if the present situation is allowed to continue. As things stand at present, the drug suppliers, who are criminals, have a vested interest in encouraging drug use, and no qualms about doing so. In addition, illegality gives drugs an added undeserved glamour. Legalisation means taking the production, distribution and sale of these dangerous substances away from criminals, and placing them in responsible hands.
But what is absolutely certain is that the war on drugs, that has cost millions of dollars and millions of lives, and which has led to several countries teetering on the brink of failed statedom, has been a resounding failure. We might once have wished to prevent people who wanted drugs being able to obtain them, but we have failed to do so, resoundingly so. All we have done is created a vast and powerful international drugs industry, an industry that would, with legalisation, be put out of business.
The measures up for the vote on Tuesday are modest ones, but they represent a small but impornat step towards sanity.