On this day in 1933, Congress responded to the growing number of states and citizens who decried the failed war on alcohol by ratifying the 21st Amendment. By effectively repealing federal alcohol prohibition, this historic event allowed states to determine the best way to deal with alcohol without interference from the federal government.
Tomorrow, history will begin to repeat itself as the ballot measure approved by voters in Washington officially goes into effect, making it the first state to remove all penalties for marijuana possession by adults. The federal government would be wise to learn from history and do what it did 79 years ago: get out of the way.
When it comes down to it, marijuana prohibition and alcohol prohibition are nearly identical, both in their intentions and in their failings. Both products are popular, and both prohibitions cause great harm to society. The laws that put non-violent alcohol users in prison and enriched violent gangsters like Al Capone are eerily similar to those that have destroyed the lives of millions of otherwise law-abiding marijuana consumers and propped up the cartels responsible for the daily violence south of the border.
Despite the glaring similarities with alcohol prohibition, there are still many government officials who simply do not see the parallels and insist that we cannot let responsible adults purchase marijuana – a far safer product than alcohol – from legitimate businesses instead of in the underground market.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the position of the U.S. Department of Justice, but we have yet to learn how, or if, they will push this position in states that choose a different, more rational path.
Washington’s new law will allow individuals 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana without penalty, fine, or arrest. Therefore, as of tomorrow, adults will no longer be persecuted simply for choosing to consume marijuana. It is now up to the state to create a system to tax and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana so that this lucrative market can be properly managed, instead of being left in the hands of criminals without quality control or oversight.
The federal government should not interfere. It made that mistake when it tried to enforce federal law in states that had removed alcohol penalties, and the result was unnecessary suffering at the expense of states’ rights, vast amounts of money, and individual liberties.
The Obama Administration should not make the same mistake.