Washington state on Thursday became the first in the nation to allow adults the legal recreational use of marijuana.
Colorado will soon join the Evergreen state in enacting marijuana legalization laws after voters in both states approved ballot initiatives that defy federal laws deeming pot illegal. Saturday in #nerdland, host Melissa Harris-Perry took a look at Washington's historic step, as well as the possibility of how regulated marijuana could provide a boost to the recovering American economy.
Doug Fine, author of "Too High To Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution," spoke to the potential financial boon to cannabis farmers in a multi-billion dollar industry on the wholesale level.
"We're talking about America's biggest crop," Fine said Saturday. "And so we're looking at a $40 billion industry when the sheer nonsense of the drug war ends, which hopefully will be pretty soon."
The possibility of the proverbial War on Drugs ending may not come anytime soon since, as the New York Times reported on Friday, the Department of Justice is considering what action it will take against Washington and Colorado.
But as Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason, pointed out, politicians may have to carry out the will of the people as current drug policy may not be sustainable:
"We still have more than 700,000 people a year coming face to face with the justice system in America over marijuana. That is an outrage, it should be an outrage on everybody's conscience. These are people who will have a criminal record for the rest of their lives. They won't be able to get a job. It disproportionately affects poor minorities, always has, always will even though they don't smoke it any more than white dudes with beards. It's a shock on our conscience and what we should be focusing on right now at this historic pivot point is pressuring politicians, Democrats and Republicans, in particularly the President of the United States who has a choice: how are you going to change your policy, your enforcement policies in the wake of two states basically seceding from your policy and also a majority, a growing majority of Americans who want full legalization."
Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California, a state which passed Proposition 215 in 1996 that legalized medical marijuana; spoke about the problems caused by the federal government intervening after states make individual decisions about marijuana:
"The unfortunate thing of the experience in California is that the federal government has come right in the middle of it. It's gone to landlords and said, listen if you don't get these medicinal marijuana places out we're going to take over your asset because this is a Class 1 drug and you know that's it. And I have said to the federal government, to President Obama you know get out of this. Let us take a look at how this works. Let us see if we can do this the right way and maybe we expand it."
The bottom line once we get past the politics, are the people whose lives are ruined because of unnecessary incarceration for minor drug offenses. The documentary "The House I Live In" examined the failure of America's drug war--and the film's director, Eugene Jarecki, underscored the point today on MHP that this isn't so much about the drugs themselves:
"This epidemic is an epidemic of man's inhumanity to man here in America. So we can talk about small marijuana victories which are valuable because they show that the public taste, the public sort of opinion on this has shifted. The public does not want to see us waste billions anymore, criminalizing non-violent people as though they were violent. That's the key."
Washington and Colorado may not only serve as groundbreaking states allowing adults to use marijuana for recreational purposes. They may also signal the beginning of fair drug policy, and an end to the long and problematic war on drugs.
See the second half of the pot politics discussion below.