The End of Marijuana Prohibition?

Have you read the 21st Amendment of the United States Constitution lately? With the gaining momentum of efforts to reform drug policies here and around the world, it’s an instructive, interesting, and very quick read. 

In 1933, for the twenty-first time, America revised the document that anchors its legal and political systems and expresses the democratic and social aspirations of its people. In this instance, Americans called for an end to the disastrous 14-year experiment with mandatory alcohol prohibition.

When Congress proposed repeal of the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol, it did two unusual things.

For the first and only time, Congress decided not to entrust approval of a proposed constitutional amendment to the state legislatures. Instead, Congress chose the alternative method of ratifying a constitutional amendment: state ratifying conventions specially elected for that single purpose by voters in each state. Ironically, it appears that Congress feared that state lawmakers might be more greatly influenced by special interests, such as the temperance movement, than America’s overall national interests.

The second interesting thing that Congress did was not legalize alcohol. While the proposed constitutional change would end 14 years of mandatory prohibition by repealing the 18th Amendment, it did not impose mandatory legalization. Instead, the 21st Amendment changed how alcohol policy is set and by whom, with each state having the authority to decide for itself.

The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

In other words, Congress was saying to each state: You decide whether you want to keep booze illegal or not within your state; the federal government won’t get involved, except to protect dry states from outside interference.

Clever, right? Congress put the question directly to the American people, through elected convention representatives who committed in advance to vote a particular way on the specific question of repealing mandatory prohibition. If passed, the control of the production, sale, and regulation of alcohol, and the mitigating of its many potential harms would be turned over to state governments that would be more accountable to, and one would hope, more in tune with communities facing these potential harms. 

Since then, many states have done Congress one step better by turning key aspects of alcohol regulation over to county and municipal governments—which really have their heads on the chopping block if they fail to meet community needs.

The U.S. Department of Justice has committed—at least for now—to essentially the same path for marijuana. Late last month, the Obama Administration announced federal law enforcement policy that would permit states to regulate marijuana production and distribution for adults.

In a remarkable memo to United States Attorneys across the country, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole explained the Obama Administration’s solution to differences in state and federal marijuana laws:

In jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems … consistent with the traditional allocation of federal-state efforts in this area, enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity.

This does not mean that federal authorities will never enforce federal laws in states that have legalized marijuana use. If one of the eight federal priorities outlined in Cole’s memo is threatened, expect the federal government to have something to say about it.  

So, what is the bottom line? For the states, it seems that the door is now open for effective and rational marijuana policies that serve the needs of real people and communities in terms of health, safety, justice, and possibly even revenue. Maybe this is our opportunity to reconsider, as a question of American federalism, the proper distribution of marijuana law enforcement authority between the states and the national government. It is not an either/or choice. In some areas of drug policy, state and local government can best respond to the needs of real people and communities; in other policy areas, only federal authority can protect both national and local interests.

Maybe I’m thinking too small. With the Obama Administration’s new marijuana enforcement policy, U.S. Attorney General Holder’s American Bar Association speech regarding the need for reform of the criminal justice system nationally, increasing interest in alternative local responses to drug use and drug markets, I can’t help but dream a little. Ten years ago, I honestly didn’t believe that realistic, humane, and effective marijuana policy could be a reality anywhere in the United States by 2013—and now even the federal government seems to be acknowledging that a better solution is within reach.

Could there be something like a 28th Amendment that lets the states set comprehensive drug policies that address the health and safety concerns of their local communities—and even try something different, like Washington and Colorado, with help, not interference, from the federal government? We may find out sooner than we think.

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Can this analysis be directly applied to marijuana? The US had no commitments in international law to ban alcohol, as it does with cannabis. How does US ratification of the 1961 and 1988 drug conventions complicate this?

It doesn't, really. The UN can pass resolutions recommending sovereign countries to do what it requests, but it is ultimately up to the nation state to decide whether it wants to follow it or not. At any point in time, the US can just decide to say "screw it, we are backing out" and there isn't anything anyone can do about it. Our Constitution specifically states that foreign laws have no real hold and combined with the fact that the UN has no real authoritative power.

I organized and directed the campaign for legal medical marijuana in Colorado. I also started the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Michigan. Both states passed these issues on the state ballots.
Now I would like some funding to end prohibition of Cannabis in the state of Michigan. Polling shows it will easily pass by large margin.
Consider supporting our group, please.

Having lived with and studied Native American tribes, I learned over the years that not one tribe uses marijuana in any of their religious or medical ceremonies. It was not smoked on any of the reservations I lived on. The Native American Religion, founded by Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, uses Peyote in their ceremonies. It is, of course, used in Rastafarian ceremonies. Ganja is sacred to them.

Alcohol, on the other hand, has been the ruination of all the Native American tribes since the day it was introduced to them by the foreigners. It continues to be a plague on every reservation. Suicides, motor accidents, overdoses, alcohol-related illness and deaths continue to this day at an alarming rate. I saw, first-hand what it did to the family I lived with.

Drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana is a personal choice. Drug dealers outside my window in NYC sell grass every day 24/7, 365 days a year. The local precinct doesn't arrest them because they don't consider it a big deal. So, in a way, NYC already recognizes it. As goes NY, so goes the world I like to say.

For the record, I have never used drugs of any kind: legal, prescription or otherwise. It is just a choice.

IF THERE IS AN END OF MARIJUANA PROHIBITION, THE USA WILL DIE IN A MORE CATASTROPHIC WAY, THAT IT WAS WHEN THE ALCOHOL PROHIBITION PROBLEMS. ALCOHOL IS ETHANOL, ONLY ONE PSYCHOTROPIC, WHILE MARIJUANA CONTAINS 400 CHEMICALS, AT LEAST TEN PSYCHOTROPICS. THERE ARE SO MANY CRAZY NOW WITH SMOKING MARIJUANA , THIS NUMBER WILL INCREASE, AND WILL BE CHAOS ....THE END OF U.S.A. CIVILIZATION HOWEVER, THERE ARE MANY ORGANIZATIONS FIGHTING OBAMA AND THOSE IGNORANT PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THAT "MARIJUANA IS A MEDICINE", THAT IS A HOAX, JUST AN EXCUSE FOR THE ADDICTS NOT KNOWING THEY ARE INDEED ADDICTED TO MARIJUANA, AND INDUCED BOTH PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DEPENDENCE.
PLUS AS "RICK LINE" SAYS, THE CONVENTION OF 1967 IS AN INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION, THAT CLASIFFIES MARIJUANA AND HASHISH AS ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS DRUGS. ONE SINGLE COUNTRY "JUST CAN GET OUT OF THIS GENEVA CONVENTION".

A PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY WHO HAS SEEN OVER THE LAST 30 YEARS THE DEVASTATION PRODUCED BY MARIJUANA SMOKING

The alcohol prohibition produced severe catastrophes in the USA . If marijuana is allowed to be used by all people, all the time, WOULD BE ANOTHER CATASTROPHE, MUCH WORSE

Interesting article, but lacking complete historical about marihuana that supports your proposition. In the beginning, marihuana was legal, and used as medicine. Because marihuana was interfering with the profit margins in the sale of alcohol, Alcohol lobby went to Congress & marijuana was legislated illegal.

Eventually, marihuana will be legalized and regulated in the same fashion as alcohol; and benefit economically.

Remember, the Opium trade that brought England out of their depression!?

Respectfully submitted,

William J. Journey
Alaskabushman

Seriously, Jose, you're a physician?

I've spoken with doctors at the most respected teaching hospitals around the world who disagree with you. Moreover, I've met terminally ill patients who have benefitted from the use of cannabis. Regardless of your vocation, I encourage you to read more about cannabis.

No, Jose is not a medical doctor… at least I seriously hope he isn't, considering the level of ignorance he's displaying.

Cannabis isn't physically addictive, period. Not a question of opinion, just a scientific fact. Opinion comes in when you want to decide whether purely psychologically addictive drugs, like Cannabis, should be treated the same way as *actually* physically addictive drugs, like Heroin.

Also, comparing the effects of alcohol and marijuana on the body by the number of psychoactive chemicals they contain is a joke. It screams armchair physician, definitely not qualified physician.

The "convention", whichever one he's referring to (1936?) is in all likelihood a politically motivated document, not a scientific one. If it mentions Cannabis as a particularly dangerous drugs, it does so in order to achieve certain political goals, serving the interests of certain political actors involved in the convention. There's a long history of strongly worded anti-drug laws and conventions brought forward, sometimes passed successfully, which state as fact theories which the scientific community has long since discredited, or never even supported.

If he has indeed "seen over the last 30 years the devastation produced by marijuana smoking," he should have realised two things by now. One, prohibition has never worked. Those who want to smoke it, *particularly* those for whom it might become a problem, have access to it anyway. Meanwhile supporting a nice little brutal, untaxed, dangerous black market. Two, that these few unfortunate people (a very, very small number among all marijuana smokers) would probably be better, more cheaply and more lastingly helped by treatment rather than incarceration.

It seems to me, that anyone who uses cannabis, no matter what reason they give for it, is using it for it's benefits. I am fully aware that is won't make my problems (what few I have) disappear. I know I must pay my bills, pay for food, utilities, etc., etc., but I want to relax, and forget about that for a little while, anyway. The worst thing about this prohibition, is the fact that it allows kids of any age to have access to it. Every drug dealer I have known, has never asked for an ID. EVER. In fact, they usually have a couple of other "controlled" substances on their list of inventory, as well. The only thing controlled by these ignorant laws, is the people who wish to use it. They are far more damaging than the cannabis will ever be.

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