Marijuana: A National Base

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp CA, MA, ME, NV, Tax and Regulate

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Marijuana reform took a quantum leap forward on Election Day.  Until November 8, legal use had been confined to four western states: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. It now has a national base.

Four new states – California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine  – voted to tax and regulate.  California is, of course, the biggest prize.  But with Massachusetts and Maine, the movement now extends coast-to-coast.

Rhode Island is only one  key elected official away from being ready to take legislative action.  The Vermont Senate last spring voted in favor of legalization.  It was the first legislative chamber in any state nationwide to do so..  Legalization might have passed the House had a vote been allowed.

Sooner than some might realize, we may be looking at legalization, not just in particular states, but throughout New England.

Consider the so-called conservative South.  Four states approved medical marijuana (and Montana re-established some prior changes).  In Florida, the margin was over 70%.  Arkansas did so as well, along with North Dakota..  Over half of the states in our country permit marijuana as medicine.

Arizona is the only one of the five states where legalization did not succeed.  The loss itself – by 52% to 48% —  is disappointing.  But even worse it the fact that Arizona is the only state with legalization  on the ballot that had not already decriminalized marijuana.   Low level marijuana users in Arizona are arrested, and often put in jail, guilty of a felony.  “Yes” on Proposition 205 would have changed that.

Arizona is also the only initiative state that went for Donald Trump.  (The President-Elect did not campaign against marijuana legalization there, and has indicated he will leave the issue up to the individual states.)

What we can learn from Arizona is that a lot of money and a willingness to use “reefer madness” scare tactics can carry the day.  Money buys TV ads, and the ads used in Arizona lied brazenly about what is being learned from Colorado’s experience over the past two years.

These same tactics did not work in Massachusetts, where the Catholic  Church donated $850,000, along with over $1 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and at least as much from the pharmaceutical industry.  Even more striking was the combined opposition of the Mayor of Boston, and the Governor of Massachusetts.

For the Boston Globe, this was a reason to support the initiative: “… their lockstep opposition …sends a clear message that Beacon Hill will not legalize marijuana on its own…The Globe endorses the yes campaign, despite the proposal’s many flaws, because the harm stemming from continued inaction on marijuana would be even greater.”

That is the short-form reason why I believe so deeply in legalization: prohibiting marijuana does more harm than good.  I’ve been trying, over the past two years, to make this case through a lens of religious faith.  I am grateful to the clergy, especially in Maine and Arizona, who have had the courage to join in the effort.  Many more told me privately they would vote for the measure, but could not take on some members of their congregations by doing so publicly.

As for Catholics and Evangelicals who took an official position against reform I have thoughts I am eager to share. They have to do with the fact that Jesus spent most of his time healing and persuading people, not arresting them.  That’s the message that matters.

Implicitly, at least, it carried the day on Tuesday.

Image credit: Price