Sunday, 11 November 2012

Voters back legalisation of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington

In the days since the recent election in the United States, some interesting news has come out of the states of Colorado and Washington. Both states, in a historic vote, have gained voter approval to legalise the recreational use, and small-scale possession of marijuana (or cannabis, if you prefer). Specifically, these amendments, I-502 in Washington, and Amendment 64 in Colorado, allow individuals over the age of 21 to legally posses up to one ounce of marijuana, and to grow up to six plants in their homes.

People celebrating the passing of Amendment 64 in Colorado
(Photo courtesy of Huffington Post)
These amendments may very well signify a significant and considerable challenge to the current War on Drugs, and current laws that allow for the incarceration of people convicted of possession of marijuana. In addition, this outcome will no doubt have the potential to be an issue for Federal authorities, in particular the Drug Enforcement Administraiton (DEA). Indeed, both states are holding off on plans to regulate and tax marijuana, pending a response from the United States Justice Department.

Indeed, medicinal use of marijuana is still illegal under Federal law, though the Obama administration has generally not pushed the application of this law. Currently, activists and supporters of this recent move to legalise marijuana are awaiting the response of a Federal appeals court, regarding whether marijuana's status as a Schedule 1 drug in the Controlled Substances Act will be altered. If successful, marijuana would lose its status as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use.

Dried flower of the Cannabis Sativa plant, or marijuana, if you prefer.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
What alternate classification it would receive would be interesting. Schedule 2 drugs are substances regarded as having a high potential for abuse, accepted medical uses in the United States, and having a risk of causing severe psychological or physical dependence if abused.

Alternately, Schedule 3 drugs are regarded as having a lower potential of abuse than substances classified as being in Schedule 1 and/or Schedule 2. In addition, Schedule 3 substances are classified for acceptable medical use in the United States, and may potentially able to cause moderate psychological or physical dependence if abused.

There are two more schedules in the Controlled Substances Act, though in my opinion marijuana would most likely end up classified in Schedule 2 or Schedule 3.

Moving away from the Controlled Substances Act, it is of note that prosecutors in King and Pierce Counties, Washington, have moved to dismiss more than 220 misdemeanor marijuana cases in response to this vote. To quote King County prosecutor Dan Satterburg,

"Although the effective date of I-502 (the vote to legalise recreational marijuana use) is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month."

This move to retroactively apply this recent vote to current cases is, in my opinion, sensible. It will be curious to see, however, to what degree this retroactive stance will be applied. It should also be noted that possession of large amounts of more than one ounce of marijuana is considered a felony, though King County allows defendants to plead to a misdemeanor offence.

It was also curious to note a response by Kansas law enforcement officials regarding the legalisation of marjuana in Colorado and Washington. Specifically, citizens of Kansas venturing into Colorado to enjoy this relaxation of drug laws are warned to not attempt to bring marijuana back into Kansas. As reported by The Wichita Eagle, and quoting Josh Kellerman of the Kansas Highway Patrol:

It’s still illegal in the state of Kansas... It is an arrestable offense. You can be taken to jail if you’re in possession of it.

One potentially major impact of legalisation will be the effect on the local economies. Aside from Kansas warning its residence about bringing marijuana purchased in Colorado back into the state, the Huffington Post has reported that legalisation may result in a significant drop in the price of marijuana. This is expected to be a result of decreased costs associated with growing the drug in a now-legal environment. Further variations in price may occur in the near future as both states consider how to tax marijuana, and as fluctuations in demand occur.

In addition, this change in policy may prove to be a boon for the Washington and Colorado economies. The prospect of "Marijuana Tourism" may cause an increase in visitors to these states, and perhaps see an infusion of cash into their economies.

A view of the Seattle Hempfest, in the state of Washington
(Photo courtesy of gadling.com)
Not everyone is convinced that legalisation of marijuana will have a considerable effect on tourism and the local economy. Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, who opposed the push in Colorado to legalise recreational use of marijuana, is quoted as saying in response to the passing of Amendment 64:

"They're going to flock here to buy marijuana as if they're going to take it back? On an airplane? That seems unlikely to me.''

There have also been a few interesting articles regarding whether the passing of Amendments I-502 and Amendment 64 will have an effect on Mexico's drug war. Legalisation of marijuana would quite potentially have an adverse impact on the income and power of Mexico's drug cartels, which have been responsible for a recent wave of violence, intimidation and murders in the region.

At any rate, it will be very interesting to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks, months and years. In particular, I will be curious to see the response of the US Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration regarding application of Federal law.

Until next time,
Nathan

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