US leading the way in legalisation of marijuana
It got less attention but something else significant happened on election night in America. As Donald Trump was being made President-elect, citizens in four states‚¬ California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine — voted to tax and regulate recreational cannabis. As well, voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas approved medical marijuana initiatives, while voters in Montana rolled back restrictions on an existing medical marijuana law.
This means that eight American states out of 50 have now voted to regulate cannabis and 28 states out of 50 have now either voted for or legislated for lawful medicinal cannabis.
California, in particular, is a powerful trendsetter within and beyond the US. Indeed it’s often the case in culture, politics and economics that what happens in California today, happens in the rest of the US tomorrow and the rest of the world the next week. California has been in the doldrums but its economy is rapidly growing again, and has now overtaken France and Britain to become the world’s sixth-biggest economy.
Almost 20 years ago California approved lawful medicinal cannabis, the first jurisdiction in the US and indeed in the world to do so. While the initial rules legislated in 1997 have recently been tightened, 27 other US states have now followed California’s example.
The unravelling of cannabis prohibition in the US is now spreading to other countries. Once medicinal cannabis is made lawful, it’s only a matter of time before more citizens throughout the world begin to question whether prohibition is the best way to manage recreational cannabis. Undoubtedly the positive results for legalising marijuana in America will also accelerate this development in Australia.
In recent years, support for legalisation of marijuana in US has risen rapidly and with medicinal cannabis being made lawful, support for regulating recreational cannabis is destined to rise.
In a Gallup poll in 1969, only 12 per cent of Americans supported the legalisation of marijuana but in 2015, 58 per cent supported legalising marijuana. And the support is growing.
In 1996 John Ehrlichman, a key adviser to president Richard Nixon said: “The line against the use of dangerous drugs is now drawn on this side of marijuana. [But] if we move the line to the other side and accept the use of this drug, how can we draw the line against other illegal drugs?”
This statement is significant because Ehrlichman, a central figure in the Watergate scandal, is someone who was pivotal in launching the so-called “War on Drugs”‚ which has proven to be such an abject failure.
There is little doubt that we are seeing a similar change of attitude in Australia, which will eventually lead to the regulation of marijuana in all our states and territories.
The race will then be on between the major parties to compete for the youth vote and for the support of all those Australians, young and old, who wish to use marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes.
The emotion and prejudice has to be removed from this debate so that sensible decisions can be made that will benefit those who are using and seek to use marijuana, in particular to improve the quality of life for them and their loved ones.
Changing the current black market situation would have many benefits, not least because, as with alcohol, a minimum age of purchase would be required. As leading Australian drug law reformer, Dr Alex Wodak, noted: “Regulating cannabis enables governments to ensure that packages have warning labels, that helpful information is widely available and that consumer protection is provided by thorough testing of the product.”
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University and the author of 39 books, including a memoir ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’ and the political/sexual satire ‘Going Out Backwards: A Grafton Everest Adventure’.
The Canberra Times, 16 November, 2016 & The Sydney Morning Herald & The Brisbane Times online , 16 November, 2016.