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Monday, December 24, 2012

Marijuana and California

A New York Times article says that California has carried out a de facto legalization of marijuana -- notwithstanding federal law. Though possession of the drug is still technically against the law, authorities seldom arrest people for having small amounts. Other states, however, are stricter. Drug control thus provides yet another example of how states can be "laboratories of democracy."

But at The Huffington Post, Nathan Robinson points out that the article overlooks impact on poor people and racial minorities. The police, he says, have always tended to look the other way for the affluent while cracking down on the downtrodden:
So the Times article really shows only the bleedingly obvious fact that influential people often get to do as they please. But also, in its suggestion that California's scheme is optimal and its problems solved ("Let Colorado and Washington be the marijuana trailblazers. Let them struggle with the messy details of what it means to actually legalize the drug"), it offers a dangerous endorsement. A regime in which a prohibition remains on the books, with enforcement depending on police discretion (justice of the paper bagged beer and the sly wink), is especially terrifying. It sets a system up for gross abuses, because how the law will apply is determined by influence in practice rather than by statutory text. California can have its cake and eat it: television personalities won't have to be embarrassed by pot busts, while police officers would not suffer the loss of power in their dealings with the poor that would result from complete legalization; no "messy" pressure of having to craft a fair law that applies equally to all.