One of the most ridiculous things about the government’s war on drugs is that it classifies marijuana in the same category as dangerous drugs such as heroin, thus making marijuana worse than morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and phenobarbital.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). As a Schedule I drug, marijuana supposedly meets the following criteria:
1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Schedule II drugs (such as morphine and cocaine), although they have “a high potential for abuse,” also have “a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.” Schedule III drugs (such as methamphetamine) have “a potential for abuse less than the drugs or other substances in schedules I and II” and “a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Schedule IV drugs (such as phenobarbital) have “a low potential for abuse relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule III” and “a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
But even though 22 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has said,
Regardless of state laws to the contrary, there is no such thing as “medical” marijuana under federal law.
Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is committed to enforcing the CSA consistent with these determinations.
We almost had twenty-three states.
There were three marijuana-related initiatives on statewide ballots in the recent election.
Amendment 2 in Florida was a constitutional amendment to allow patients with debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana and purchase it from state-regulated dispensaries. Although it received 58 percent of the vote, it required a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
Measure 91 in Oregon and Ballot Measure 2 in Alaska were initiatives to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol for those 21 and older that would also allow home cultivation. Both states already permitted medical marijuana. A majority of the voters in both states voted in favor of them.
There was also on the ballot in Washington, D.C. Initiative 71 to make it legal for adults to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana but not to sell it. And in the U.S. territory of Guam there was Proposal 14A to allow for the medical use and regulation of marijuana. Both of them passed as well.
There were also a number of local ballot measures in California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Mexico that related in some way to marijuana.
The passage of four out of five of those ballot measures is a small victory for freedom in the United States.
Even though the ballot measures don’t allow all adult Americans (not just those 21 and older) to legally buy, sell, smoke, possess, distribute, transport, cultivate, give away, consume, or “traffic in” marijuana in any form and in any amount, they are still a small victory for freedom.
Even though the ballot measures treat marijuana like alcohol and open the door to states, cities, and counties to tax and regulate marijuana, they are still a small victory for freedom.
Even though the ballot measures are valid only on the state level and don’t affect how the federal government classifies marijuana or prosecutes marijuana users, they are still a small victory for freedom.
Even though the ballot measures inconvenience, insult, and infringe upon property rights of those who desire to responsibly use marijuana, they are still a small victory for freedom.
Even though the ballot measures weren’t passed because all Americans who voted for them actually favor individual liberty in all aspects and real drug freedom, they are still a small victory for freedom.
Even though the ballot measures don’t remove the stigma and negative connotations associated with marijuana use, they are still a small victory for freedom.
And even though these ballot measures don’t end the war on drugs and don’t release from prison great numbers of nonviolent Americans incarcerated for drug crimes, they are still a small victory for freedom.
In a free society, there would be absolute drug freedom. Not just the freedom to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, but the freedom to use any drug. And not just use drugs, but manufacture and cultivate them, buy and sell them, advertise and recommend them, distribute and transport them, trade and give them away, possess and stockpile them, import and export them, or become a “drug trafficker.” In a free society, there would be no Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy, national drug “czar,” government drug schedules, government anti-drug programs, or government “war” on drugs. Because it is not the business of government at any level to be concerned with the medical, consumption, or recreational habits of Americans, in a free society there would be no laws whatsoever prohibiting or regulating marijuana or any other drug for any reason.
There are a number of reasons why the fact that ballot measures legalizing the medical or recreational use of marijuana were successful is a small victory for freedom.
1. Drug freedom will come through marijuana freedom. Heroin, cocaine, and other drugs will never be legalized without marijuana’s being legalized first. As much as libertarians believe, and rightly so, that all drugs should be treated equally and be fully legal, the majority of Americans are shocked by such sentiments.
2. There is a gradual road to drug freedom. Just as the drug prohibition we currently live under was enacted in stages, so drug freedom — even though it should be immediate and all-encompassing — will come in gradual steps unless the whole nature of the U.S. government suddenly changes.
3. Relaxing marijuana laws on the state level is absolutely essential to drug freedom. If the federal government abolished its DEA and all of its drug laws tomorrow, the states would still have theirs.
4. On a practical level, it is easier to convince and persuade voters and legislators in a state to do something than it is to get the federal government to do anything.
5. State action reenforces our federal system of government. That is how the American system is supposed to work. As James Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 45,
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
6. The American people are making decisions that directly impact their freedom, not government bureaucrats or legislators. Ideally, if state legislators were defenders of individual liberty and property rights instead of statists to the core, they would repeal previous drug laws to restore liberty and uphold property. Then, if someone didn’t want to use drugs he wouldn’t have to, but if someone wanted to use drugs, he would be perfectly free to do so — and be fully responsible for his actions while using or abusing drugs just as when he drinks alcohol.
7. The restoration of some liberty in the states puts the federal government on notice. I suspect that only a handful of members of Congress would advocate real drug freedom and that most of them who would, would never say so publicly. But the more drug freedom that exists in the states, the harder it becomes for the federal government to enforce its drug laws.
Ballot measures to legalize the medical or recreational use of marijuana are not panaceas, they are not ideal, and they are not “libertarian.” Nevertheless, they are a small step toward drug freedom. Ultimately, real drug freedom will not come by the ballot box. It will come by changing hearts and minds toward the philosophy of freedom, of which drug freedom is a small, but not insignificant, part. After all, you can’t have real freedom without drug freedom.