Beyond The Marijuana Tipping Point

[ Posted Tuesday, April 20th, 2021 – 15:22 UTC ]

Three years ago, I wrote an article titled "Marijuana Legalization Has Passed The Tipping Point." Now, we seem to be at the moment after the tipping point where momentum starts to quickly build, until the whole effort is speeding downhill and nothing can stop it at all.

Chuck Schumer just announced today -- on 4/20, of course -- that he would not only be drafting legalization legislation in the Senate but actually moving it to a floor vote. This bill would permanently get the federal government out of the War On Weed forever. Here's how the Washington Post reported it:

Speaking on April 20 -- a folk holiday for marijuana enthusiasts -- [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer said on the Senate floor that he planned to draft and advance Senate legislation "not only to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, but to ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations."

"It makes no sense. It's time for change. I believe the time has come to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in this country," he said, adding that strict federal penalties for cannabis have disproportionately hurt people of color who serve long jail sentences over possession of the drug and then struggle to obtain jobs because of their criminal records.

While Schumer referred to the planned legislation as "legalization," it is unlikely to have any effect on the myriad state laws that restrict cannabis. But it could very well undo many federal laws on the subject, including reclassifying or removing marijuana from the federal schedule of controlled substances, which classifies it as a dangerous drug with no legitimate medicinal use.

That classification is now in conflict with laws in three dozen states that allow the medical use of cannabis, as well as 17 states, plus D.C., that have legalized recreational use by adults. It is also in growing conflict with the wishes of the voting public, who increasingly favor some degree of liberalization.

According to a recent Pew Research poll, 91 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal in some form, with 60 percent supporting its use both recreationally and medicinally and 31 percent saying it should be used only medicinally.

This is long overdue. And despite some waffling, the bill needs to completely deschedule marijuana and reclassify it as something the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives should regulate. That will be the true end of the War On Weed, at least at the federal level.

President Joe Biden, who is an old-school drug warrior from way back, is not totally on board quite yet:

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports "decriminalizing" marijuana, expunging prior criminal records and legalizing medicinal marijuana, but would leave legalization for recreational use to the states. She said Biden did not support completely descheduling marijuana as a dangerous drug but rather reclassifying it to allow for more research.

"We understand the movement that's happening toward" legalization, she said. "He wants to decriminalize, but again, he'll look at the research of the positive and negative impacts."

So he's got some evolving still left to do. But it's doubtful he'd veto a measure which did completely deschedule marijuana, assuming one ever gets to his desk. Biden will probably sign such a bill, in other words, even if he thinks it goes a little too far.

Of course, the chances of that happening are unknown, at this point. Not all Democrats support total legalization at the federal level. But then again, not all Republicans are opposed either. There are libertarians like Rand Paul within the party's ranks, as well as plenty of politicians elected in states that already have legal recreational marijuana sales to adults. Most of which were passed at the ballot box, so it's pretty easy to see where the public is on the issue. And that would be: "far beyond the tipping point."

As a bonus today, I'm going to run that column I wrote three years ago. When I wrote it, the number of states with legal recreational use was in the single digits. Now it stands at 17, plus Washington D.C. That's one-third of all U.S. states. One-third of the population lives in states where buying a joint is just a matter of going down to the store and picking one out from the many choices available.

And you know what? The sky hasn't fallen in any of these states. The time has come for the federal government to declare unconditional surrender in the War On Weed and leave it all (for now) up to the states to decide. Congress also needs to reform banking and tax laws so that marijuana businesses can operate like any other business in the country -- which is currently far from true. We've still got battles to fight, in other words. The war's not completely over yet. But just compare where we are now to where we were three short years ago, and you can see the efforts to end the War On Weed forever have only increased in momentum after the tipping point was reached.

The end is in sight.


Originally published January 24, 2018

The state of Vermont has just made some history. It has become the first state in the Union to legalize the recreational adult use of marijuana through its legislature. There was no citizens' referendum where the people voted the new law in; instead, representative democracy worked as designed -- a clear majority of Vermonters were in favor of legalization and their elected representatives actually represented this viewpoint by changing the law. This is important because there are many states like Vermont (24 in total) where the direct democracy of ballot initiatives never took hold. When the people can't directly vote on the issue, it is up to the state government to act, to put it another way. Vermont will become the ninth state with legal recreational marijuana this July, when the new law takes effect. Over one-fifth of the American population now lives where weed is legal. Marijuana legalization can now be said to have reached -- and passed -- the tipping point. There is no going back, at this point, to the failed War On Weed, which has been waged for approximately the last century of American history. All that is really left to happen is for the federal government to wake up to this new reality. That may still take a few years, but at this point it has to be seen as all but inevitable.

Some might call such a proclamation premature. But at this point it is really hard to see how anyone can reverse this tide, even that infamous weed-hater Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There are just too many legal pot smokers and too many other citizens who have seen that life has not appreciably changed after legalization. All the horror stories that were supposed to have happened by now have not, in fact, happened. This is largely due to the fact that the drug warriors have been flat-out lying about the demon weed for almost the entire century that marijuana was illegal. Go see Reefer Madness if you need any proof of this exhaustive propaganda campaign's history. The public has been fed a steady diet of lies about marijuana ever since it was originally demonized as the way Mexican laborers and African-American jazz musicians were destroying American society from within. Again, these are historical facts, easily available for anyone to peruse. The War On Weed didn't just become racist, it actually began with racist motivations.

The first drug warrior was almost as long-lived as J. Edgar Hoover was over at the F.B.I. When alcohol Prohibition ended, a new campaign to create a federal department (for all those would be out of the job of battling rum-runners and beer barons) began under the leadership of Harry Anslinger, who became head of the newly-created Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930s. Here's just a quick sample of how he sold the War On Weed to Washington politicians:

Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him.

And that's not even the worst quote from him, not by a longshot. Anslinger personally launched the federal crusade against weed, and he remained at the head of the new agency until he resigned at the mandatory retirement age in 1962. President Richard Nixon began the more-modern phase of the War On Weed in the early 1970s, with the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Top Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman, in an interview much later in his life, admitted the Nixon White House's true motivation for ramping up the Drug War:

You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

The War On Drugs had evolved from being merely racist to being racist and being used as a handy political weapon against Nixon's perceived enemies. Fast-forward to today, and we have a man running the Justice Department who was once caught joking that his opinion of the Ku Klux Klan was that they were: "okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana."

Despite this ignoble history (which continues right up to this very day), the War On Weed has been a massive failure all around, unless you view it through the warped lens of: "maximizing the number of people of color who have had their lives destroyed by the criminal justice system" (or, perhaps: "increasing how many people lose their right to vote due to marijuana crimes," a related subject).

Prohibition of alcohol ended because of widespread disregard for the law and because the people had finally had enough. Marijuana prohibition is ending for similar reasons. Up until very recently, politicians -- on the left and the right -- have refused to provide any sort of leadership on the issue at all. Nixon was right, the War On Drugs proved to be a dandy bludgeon for Republicans to politically beat on Democrats with, especially in the 1980s (the "Nancy Reagan 'Just Say No' Era"). So Republicans have long been locked into their "tough on crime, pro-law-and-order" political stance, and for roughly the past 40 years, Democrats have been terrified of being painted as "soft on drugs." This has led to the current political impasse on the national level.

But, slowly, this tide is turning too. In the last presidential election, all the candidates on stage for a primary debate, except for one, voiced support for state-legal medicinal marijuana -- in a Republican debate (the lone holdout who spoke against it was Chris Christie). On the Democratic side, one of the final two candidates spoke openly of allowing the states to legalize recreational marijuana as well (Hillary Clinton waffled a bit, but Bernie Sanders was pretty clear on the issue). Slowly the politicians are learning that they must follow the will of the people on marijuana, and the will of the people is turning overwhelmingly towards ending the federal War On Weed.

In Vermont, the legalization bill was signed by a Republican governor. However, because of this, the law is really only a half-step towards full acceptance of legalization. Vermonters will be allowed to grow and possess and use marijuana, but there will be no legal marketplace. Selling it will remain solely a black-market activity, at least for now. Vermont's legislature actually passed their first legalization bill last year, but the governor vetoed it. In the initial bill, a commission would be set up to study and make recommendations about how to create and regulate a legal marketplace. The new bill (the one signed into law) shifts the appointment power of this commission to the governor. There are fears he'll try to pack it with people adamantly opposed to the idea, but even if this happens sooner or later the politicians are going to get tired of ignoring the windfall of taxes they could easily be collecting. The people clearly support the idea, so sooner or later the politicians will get out of the way and let it happen.

In some states, politicians (Democrats, for the most part, at least so far) have fully embraced the idea of recreational legalization. Gavin Newsom, the up-and-coming California politician (he is currently the frontrunner to become the state's next governor) has long been pro-weed, and is unafraid to stand on his convictions. He helped lead the ballot initiative push when California's voters legalized recreational use (California's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, led the opposition, showing politicians' support of legal weed may be a generational issue, even among Democrats). And very recently, New Jersey's newly-sworn-in governor actively campaigned that he would push a recreational legalization bill through his own statehouse -- in his first 100 days in office. That's pretty wholehearted support.

If New Jersey legalizes recreational marijuana in the next few months, it will become the tenth state overall to do so and the second to do so legislatively. Other states are also eyeing legislative legalization (Rhode Island may not be far behind) and all that lovely tax money that is currently being left on the table. In the 2018 midterm election, several states will have ballot initiatives for either outright legalization or medicinal legalization. This could push the total number of states with medical marijuana laws into the 30s, and the number with full legalization into the teens. Since Colorado and Washington state pioneered legal recreational marijuana, the only ballot initiatives which have failed have mostly been badly written and/or inadequate. When thoughtful and comprehensive initiatives are drafted, they have been winning from coast to coast. This trend will likely continue in 2018.

Marijuana legalization has reached the tipping point, folks. We are simply not going back, no matter what Jeff Sessions thinks. We are fast approaching the point where one out of every four Americans lives in a state with legal weed. In 2018, more and more politicians at the national level are going to start realizing it is in their own best interest to support legalization. It probably won't be that big an issue this year, at least outside the states that are holding referenda (there are many other issues which will dominate the 2018 election cycle, in other words), but look for it to be a core issue in 2020.

The individual states are leading the way, but so far the federal government has largely refused to budge. Federal law still states that marijuana has no accepted medical use and is actually more dangerous to the public than opium, cocaine, or crystal meth. This is laughably incorrect and out of date, but it is going to be up to Congress to change this continued idiocy. Which means that more and more voters are going to start caring about where their candidates for the House and Senate stand on the issue. This pressure will eventually effect real and lasting change -- the final end to the federal War On Weed.

Vermont politicians have chalked up a new milestone in this fight. A state legislature has passed -- and a Republican governor has signed into law -- state-level legalization of recreational marijuana. The tipping point has happened, if indeed it didn't happen years ago. The public wants to see the federal government treat marijuana the same as it currently treats alcohol and tobacco, because it makes so much sense to do so. Jeff Sessions can try to deny this new reality all he wants, but in the end he's not going to change a thing (unless he actually accelerates the process of moving towards federal acceptance, by spurring a backlash in Congress). The tide has turned. The dam has burst. Choose whatever metaphor you wish -- my favorite is probably: America's second Prohibition is almost over.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


34 Comments on “Beyond The Marijuana Tipping Point”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You'll be happy to know, Chris, that today on 4-20 I made a purchase of some THC edibles which should be here in time for the big PRiSM concert on Saturday. And, with the triple guilty verdict today in the Derek Chauvin trial, there is a lot to celebrate!

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:


  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I don't think celebration is really the right mood for somebody being sent to prison. It beats him getting away with it, but to celebrate I'd want it to stop happening so much in the first place.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Oh, I agree. There is much more to be done. I guess I'm just happy that the verdict was correct and happy for the Floyd family that they didn't suffer yet another injustice on top of the death of George.

    I am hopeful that this is indeed an inflection point and that we will see change in how police deal with situations like this

    I think the entire testimony of the pulmonalogist, Dr. Tobin, should become part of police training, for starters.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Oh, wait ... Chauvin deserves to go to prison. And, I hope the judge decides on a sentence on the order of 20 years, given all of the aggravating circumstances and lack of mitigating circumstances.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua, I'm going to celebrate this verdict because it was the correct verdict.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm going to celebrate this verdict because it is so nice to see George's family so happy about how all of this turned out and because there is so much hope now for the future.

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I'm celebrating the notion that at least in this one case the bad cop didn't get away with it.

    Edibles huh? Welcome to The Dark Side.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I can hardly wait until they arrive! By the end of the week, I should think.:)

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Say, Caddy! What's the best way to consume magic mushrooms?

  11. [11] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I wish that it was past the tipping point here in reefer madness territory.

    The end is in sight.

    The End is not near. This country is too stupid.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Is everything okay, Don?

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Don, you're not goiong to believe this but I was actually planning on spaghetti and mushrooms for dinner tonight. Not a joke! Well, not those mushrooms. Heh.

  15. [15] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    I actually agree with Biden's official stance on Marijuana. Because it has been classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance, there hasn't been enough research done to fully account for any negative effects that there might be, so descheduling it completely would probably be premature. His position of decriminalizing it and rescheduling it to allow for actual, objective scientific research would be the most sensible move for the moment. Once there has been time for legitimate and legally sanctioned research to have determined the positive and negative effects, then a discussion over fully descheduling could be held.

    Don't misunderstand me, I'm well aware that there has been a lot of research done on marijuana, but I think it's important for our own scientists to provide the data the lawmakers should use to make the final decision. The more they can trust the data, the fewer doubts they'll have over the conclusions, and the more likely any changes they make will be to stick.

  16. [16] 
    John M wrote:

    1] Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    "You'll be happy to know, Chris, that today on 4-20 I made a purchase of some THC edibles which should be here in time for the big PRiSM concert on Saturday. And, with the triple guilty verdict today in the Derek Chauvin trial, there is a lot to celebrate!"

    I would appreciate it if you would let me know how they work out for you Elizabeth. I am starting to look for something that would help me with my chronic shoulder and neck pain. (Arthritis and nerve damage due to an old injury from a car accident.) Especially as I am not a smoker and need some other way to take anything.

    I've also had my first covid vaccination shot (pfizer) and am waiting on my second dose.

  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Thanks, Don - that was a real hoot!

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I will let you know, for sure! I'll be starting out with a very small dose and work up from there, keeping in mind that the effect may take a couple of hours to develop. Hoping I'll be patient enough. If you never hear from me again, then ...

    I've never been a smoker, either, and I certainly am NOT enjoying smoking my joints, or grinding the flower or filling up the empty pre-rolls for that matter, though I have gotten pretty good at all of that in fairly short order!

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    BTW, John ... did you have any reaction to your first COVID shot? I've got myself on a waitlist for mine ...

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I actually agree with Biden's official stance on Marijuana. Because it has been classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance, there hasn't been enough research done to fully account for any negative effects that there might be, so descheduling it completely would probably be premature.

    Actually, there has been quite a lot of, ah, research and there are no inherently negative effects. Ahem. Other than lung damage if you don't smoke it right. :)

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Don't misunderstand me, I'm well aware that there has been a lot of research done on marijuana ...

    Sorry for misunderstanding you!

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Damn it. a slash instead of dot.

    I could help with links, if you like.. :)

  23. [23] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    My wife has a pain in the neck (along with John M), but I've told her after enduring me for 62 yrs, it's too late for marijuana to help.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    N-N-N-No! It's never too late. I am living proof of that.

    PRiSM has a song for that.

    Look out!

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:
  26. [26] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    EM [26]
    Yeah, I meant there hasn't been a lot of legally sanctioned American research done on the topic, because such hasn't been possible due to the scheduling. While I have no doubt that other countries are quite capable of performing their own scientifically valid studies, and even some of the unofficial studies performed here likely have scientific validity, I think that our lawmakers would be more comfortable trusting our own scientists, which is what I was referring to in the last paragraph.

  27. [27] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You think its a lack of official American data that is making it hard for Congress to act?

  28. [28] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Someone should tell them that there is A LOT of money to be had. Heh.

  29. [29] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    EM [32]
    No, I don't think that's what's been holding them back, but having that research would give them cover to change their position. By pointing to that American research, they can explain to their constituents why they've changed their position without it being a dreaded "flip-flop" on the issue. They could say that new data has come available, so they've changed their position to account for that.

    Most of our politicians don't tend to lead the way, they typically have to be dragged into supporting change. They have to feel pretty certain that their new position will be safe before they'll be willing to take it.

  30. [30] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I see your point. It's too bad that the idea of 'evolving thinking' has come to mean the dreaded "flip-flop".

    But, that can be effectively explained by saying that you're constantly learning and looking for better ways of dealing with an issue, etc. Though, maybe not so much in a polarized society.

  31. [31] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Pelosi put her foot in her mouth when her poor choice of words caused it to sound like she was thanking George Floyd for choosing to die so that we could start talking about police reform in this country! I think most people will get what she was trying to say, but this was not Nancy at her best!

  32. [32] 
    TheStig wrote:

    As I drive five miles north the legal status of Marijuana possession goes from:

    OK if you a in small amounts.

    Mind you, this spectrum is all within the same county!

  33. [33] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Not sure what happened to me last night but, it happened rather suddenly. More about that another time. Ahem.

    Let me conclude my portion of the program with another track from JackSOUL.

    Jacksoul was a Canadian soul and R&B group formed in 1995 in Toronto and fronted by Haydain Neale - love this sound and getting lost in the melody. Haydain died of lung cancer in 2009...

    Somedays - Jacksoul

  34. [34] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    oops ... wrong column!

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