The end of cannabis prohibition – beyond the tipping point

The first system of state government regulated production and supply of cannabis for non-medical use came one step closer this week, with the publication by the Washington State Liquor Control Board of its latest draft rules for the production and supply of marijuana. 

These proposed new rules appear to meet the requirements laid down by US Attorney General Eric Holder in his recent announcement that the Federal Government will allow individual states to proceed with marijuana legalization, as long as they ensure production and supply are well regulated, including restricting access to minors, and preventing excess production being sold into states that have not legalized.

Transform welcomes the broad thrust of Washington State's regulations which, are in line with what we have been calling for, including in our book 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation', and in our forthcoming publication 'How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide'.

We also find the detail fascinating, shaped as it is by a combination of the requirements of the wording of the ballot initiative that voters passed; existing federal and state regulatory frameworks and laws they must accommodate and comply with, for example on packaging, advertising, intoxicants etc; the Federal Government's specific requirements; and last but not least, the rapidly changing US political and cultural landscape too.

Included in that changing landscape is the fact that cannabis legalisation ballot initiatives significantly increase the number of young voters who make it to the ballot box, something that favours Democratic candidates (by and large). As a result, with over half of all Americans now supporting marijuana law reform, and 83% saying the war on drugs has been lost, for Democrats at least, cannabis law reform is no longer a third rail issue - it is a vote winner, whether Obama can say so publicly or not. How do the Republicans respond to this? Calling for the Federal Government to stamp all over states rights is not acceptable for most of them, and with even former Presidential Candidate John McCain saying "Maybe we should legalize" marijuana, surely the game is up.

Internationally, these changes combined with a general reduction in international influence means that the US can no longer effectively dictate a global prohibitionist approach to cannabis, as underlined by Uruguay's bold moves. With legislators in many other regions expressing support for Uruguay, or interest in legalizing cannabis in their own cities or countries, it is clear we are not at a tipping point on ending cannabis prohibition. We have passed it.