For the third day in a row, marijuana is legally available for both purchase and consumption in California, for purely recreational purposes, to any adult age 21 or older. Also, for the third day in a row: the sky did not fall, the sun still rose in the east, and people are not rioting in the streets. Astonishingly, it turned out to be only an acorn that beaned Chicken Little, and none of the dire hellscapes predicted ― for almost a century ― by the government, the Puritans, and the likes of Nancy Reagan has yet come to pass. It’s just another day, in fact, little different from all the tens of thousands of days when marijuana was prohibited.
Of course, this was obvious to anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention, since California was not the first such state to take such a radical step. Colorado and Washington have enjoyed legal recreational marijuana sales for years now, and Oregon and Alaska weren’t far behind. California is part of the third wave of states to fully legalize, along with Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine. Over 21 percent of the nation’s population lives in these eight states ― over one-fifth of American citizens can now buy marijuana without fear of legal consequences or retribution, in other words. All of these states are now openly defying federal law, which states that marijuana is still always illegal, for all purposes, everywhere in the United States.
Much like Prohibition (of alcohol) before it, though, this is becoming increasingly nothing more than a scofflaw, to varying degrees. It is now easier to keep track of the states which have not legalized at least medicinal marijuana, since there are fewer of them than those that have (21 versus 29 that have legalized some form of medical use). This strikes to the very core of the federal law against marijuana which states that marijuana (or sometimes “marihuana,” reflecting the increasingly ancient nature of these federal laws) “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” When almost six out of ten states have medicinal marijuana laws on the books, that statement is now nothing short of patently and laughably absurd.
Of course, it is still possible for you to get arrested in California for smoking a joint, but you’ve really got to try hard for it to happen. If you were stupid enough to travel up to Yosemite National Park and spark up a doobie in front of a park ranger, you would get arrested and tried under federal law for doing so, since the park is federal land. They’ve even got their own jail and federal judge, so you wouldn’t even have to leave to park for this to happen. But short of blatantly smoking weed in front of a federal law enforcement officer on federal land, nobody in California has to fear such a prospect again. Of course, there are still state and local laws banning consumption in public, but it’s hard to see the cops caring much except in the most egregious cases (“Please just put out the joint, sir or ma’am, and move along” is much more likely). The federal government might also conceivably attempt to bust growers, middlemen, or retailers, but the sheer size of the market means it would be absolutely impossible for them to even make the attempt at arresting people for merely possessing or consuming marijuana ― hopefully, ever again. Adults in the Golden State can now buy marijuana with only slightly more hassle than it takes to buy a sixpack of beer, a bottle of antihistamines, or a pack of cigarettes. Which is as it should be. Everywhere.
Our country’s founding document ― the first time we put on paper what our country and our government should be ― spells this out in no uncertain terms. Governments simply cannot legitimately attempt to take away from anyone the right to live your life, the right to be free, and the right to pursue happiness in any way you choose which does not harm others. Period. Any government which attempts to take away such rights is, by definition, tyrannical and illegitimate, because these rights are guaranteed to all at birth and you can never be separated from them for any reason. If further proof is needed, please look up the dictionary definition of “unalienable.” In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see bumperstickers begin to appear which warn politicians “I smoke marijuana ― and I vote.” The People have spoken, by the direct democracy of a ballot initiative, and it is now impossible to ignore their will.
The mainstream media doesn’t really know what to make of it all. They run bemused stories which still fall back on stoner humor, or they offer sober assessments of how the new marijuana economy will change things, or they still attempt to warn of the direst of consequences. Almost none of these stories hinge on the aspect of sheer liberation, however.
There is a big difference between marijuana legalization and two other historic political battles for liberation, of course. Both the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the leaps and bounds gay rights have made in the past decade or so were also struggles for liberation ― both of which have not fully been realized, even today. These fights for equality, though, ran a whole lot deeper than the fight to be left alone to smoke a joint in peace. You cannot change the color of the skin you were born with, and as Lady Gaga will tell you, people don’t choose to be who they are sexually, they are born that way. But nobody is a born pot smoker. It’s just not an inherent part of a person at birth.
But, much like defeating Prohibition before it, it is indeed a fight for liberation from government tyranny and overreach. Citizens used to regularly be locked up in prison for merely possessing even a trace amount of what is, in essence, just a plant. People were routinely given decades-long prison sentences for having natural plant matter in their possession. Those lucky enough to escape the hoosegow still faced steep fines, the destruction of careers, disqualification for student loans or government housing, and repossession of houses, cars, and money on the momentary whim of police officers ― on a daily basis. Marijuana is reportedly supposed to induce paranoia in its users, but how paranoid is it to be worried about such things when the consequences were so drastic for getting caught? To put it another way: Are you truly paranoid if they really are after you?
In California, people have been wary for decades, of even such a simple thing as discussing marijuana over the phone. So much for freedom of speech, when the cops can tap a dealer’s line and record it to use as evidence. Your personal electric bills were open to inspection by the cops as well, to catch “grow houses” using an inordinate amount of electricity for halogen lights. Cops would roll up on houses with heat-vision devices to see which houses were glowing too hot ― another sign of a grow house. Growers had had to move inside due to the thousands of flights of helicopters overhead, searching for illegal farms. They even tossed out the federal Posse Comitatus Act when they formed “CAMP,” or the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, which was a cooperative effort by local, state, and federal troops. In fact, the heavy-handed efforts and outright legal abuses of CAMP were largely responsible for California leading the initial legal pushback against the entire War On Weed. In 1996, California became the first state in the nation to legalize medicinal marijuana, which was the tipping point down the slippery slope towards full legalization we are traveling on today.
Adults in California ― the state’s citizens and visitors alike ― now no longer have to worry about their car being confiscated for buying some pot. They no longer have to worry about their license plate being photographed outside a store selling hydroponic equipment. They no longer have to worry about their house being seized for growing a plant or two in the back yard. They no longer cringe when helicopters fly over. They no longer fear arrest, fines, or even imprisonment for possessing this plant.
That is indeed a story of liberation. It is a story of freedom. The freedom from fear. The freedom to say the word “marijuana” on the phone without cops showing up to ask you about it. The freedom not to worry about what the mailman sees when you open the front door to sign for a package. The freedom from any paranoia at all, in fact, whether legitimate or imagined. As F.D.R. might have said: the fear itself of possessing marijuana is no longer to be feared.
It’s a new day in California, just as it was a new day in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska a few years ago. A day when every adult is totally and utterly free to pursue happiness through the medium of marijuana, should they so choose. And, as I began, the sky has yet to fall. January 1, 2018 has entered the history books in California as a day of liberation for millions, because they no longer need fear the racist, misguided, and tyrannical attempts by government to limit the freedom the Declaration of Independence says we are all born to enjoy. The times they certainly are a-changing, out here in the Golden State.
Chris Weigant blogs at ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant