"It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." — Justice Louis D. Brandeis (in dissent), New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann 285 U.S. 262 (1932).
By approving Amendment 64 on Nov. 6, Colorado voters did what generations of craven elected officials, from city councilors to district attorneys to state legislators to governors to congressmen to every president since 1970, have been afraid to do. They challenged the lunatic might of the national drug-control bureaucracy.
Drug warriors like to portray marijuana as a "gateway drug," a seductive portal that leads innocent youths to perdition. Close the gateway, so they claim, and we'll all grow up to be healthy, athletic, clean-living folks like Paul Ryan, or Lance Armstrong or Paula Broadwell ... oh, never mind!
Legalizing marijuana strikes at the heart of drug control and criminalization — the Controlled Substances Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. It divides drugs into five "schedules." Schedule 1 includes drugs with "high potential for abuse, for which there are no accepted medical uses, and for which there is a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision."
The list includes virtually every popular recreational drug of the 1960s. In the halcyon days before worldwide drug control, I tried at least three.
Marijuana made me paranoid, and peyote made me puke. Psilocybin? I fondly remember wandering through cow pastures in Grenada during the mid-1970s looking for mushrooms. We'd walk the fields at dawn, before the fierce tropical sun burned off the blue-tinged 'shrooms that grew from cow patties. Three or four would give you a nice, mellow, day-long high.
My experiences are hardly unique. Millions of Americans have used illegal drugs, and millions have dealt them. Such behavior may be mildly reprehensible, but it shouldn't be criminal, except when truly dangerous substances are involved. Few would advocate blanket legalization of heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine. Fewer still would argue that marijuana should continue to be classified as Schedule 1. The classification is arbitrary, capricious, punitive, irrational and vengeful — thoroughly Nixonian.
Remember when Douglas Bruce persuaded a comfortable majority of Colorado voters to approve the tax-limiting, revenue-capping Taxpayer's Bill of Rights? Powerful forces in and out of government did everything to delay, dilute and defang the law. Confident of support, Bruce fought back.
TABOR endures, but it's an emasculated shadow of its former majestic self — as is its author, brought low by ceaseless battle and careless pride.
Legal dope is much easier to attack than tax limitation — so what's next? Though we've reported that District Attorney Dan May is re-evaluating cases, he's stated he will not be following the lead of Boulder DA Stan Garnett by simply dismissing all minor marijuana cases. (See CannaBiz for more.)
In Washington, federal lawyers are busy fending off another legal challenge to the CSA being considered by a three-judge appeals panel. The courts historically have deferred to government in refusing to change marijuana's classification, but perhaps they'll defer to science and voters this time.
What if they do? And what if the feds take marijuana off the list? It'd be legal, subject only to controls similar to those on alcohol and tobacco.
Amendment 64 doesn't merely require that the state regulate production, distribution, sale and possession of the demon weed. It effectively creates a state-sanctioned indoor marijuana industry, heavily taxed and regulated.
If CSA falls, that structure will not long endure. Tobacco, hops and barley are grown in the open air, not warehouses. Breweries and distilleries locate wherever it makes economic sense, not in unmarked buildings.
A new world awaits. Imagine vast fields of marijuana along our city's eastern edge, irrigated by water from the otherwise-unneeded Southern Delivery System. We could even have a new state song:
"Colorado! Where the dope grows thick upon the plain / And the bloomin' buds can sure smell sweet / When the wind comes right behind the rain."
Or maybe we should just stick with "Rocky Mountain High."