Posted by: sweeneyblog | February 20, 2011

Legalization? It is time

In 1619, the colony of Jamestown required that all settlers grow hemp or cannabis. George Washington himself, noted agriculturalist, grew it as one of his primary crops in Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson composed the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. It was universally regarded as a reliable source material for rope, paper, sails and clothes. The soldiers in the Revolutionary Army wore hemp.

So what happened? How did this versatile material become a substance that we hand out life in prison sentences for? The answer is economics and fear. Around the turn of the century and on into the early 1920’s, temperance was active social movement. Religious groups campaigned against “demon rum” and this eventually led to the prohibition of alcohol. During this time, Mexican immigrants had poured into western and southwestern states and many began working agricultural jobs. Many of these farmers would smoke in the fields to relax after finishing work. The white immigrants, mostly Irish and Polish, who had been working these jobs, felt displaced. They began referring to hemp by a more Hispanic sounding name, Cannabis or Marijuana and pushed for its criminalization. In short, they tried to push back against anything they could to show that the people taking their jobs were lazy, inefficient, and destructive.

The cotton and timber industries, which produced alternatives to hemp, saw an opportunity to eliminate a competitor. Hemp was easy to grow and decentralized, and unlike cotton and timber, it did not require large expensive farms and produced usable goods on only a few acres. So the industries and their allies brought their full weight against hemp. The newspaper baron, William Randolph Hearst (you might recognize him from his biopic “Citizen Kane”), directed all his papers to print vicious anti-immigrant screeds blasting their “loco weed” and calling for prohibition.

Legislation made it illegal and over the course of time, we have filled our jails and prisons with people who have trafficked in a substance grown by our nation’s forefathers.

The tide is turning and with good reason. Several states, including Washington, have ruled marijuana legal for medical use (one of the strongest side effects of cancer treatment is intense nausea. Consumption of marijuana can ease that side effect for some). But it is time to take the plunge and fully legalize it. Legislation in Olympia would do just that, and I call on everyone to support this measure.
  • This is a bipartisan issue: Tea Party members and conservatives can support this because it gets the government out of people’s personal lives. It reduces government spending on drug busting teams and prison sentences; it shrinks the influence of government. Ex-Governor of New Mexico, Republican Gary Johnson has been speaking out about this issue recently: “The fact is that the current drug laws are contributing to an all-out war on our southern border – all in the name of a modern-day prohibition that is no more logical or realistic than the one we abandoned 75 years ago.” Democrats can support this as reducing our prison population and refocusing our police on violent offenders.
  • This is pro-public safety: Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes penned an editorial in the Seattle Times about this recently, Instead, I support tightening laws against driving while stoned, preventing the sale of marijuana to minors, and ensuring that anything other than small-scale noncommercial marijuana production takes place in regulated agricultural facilities — and not residential basements.” Holmes came to the same realization about marijuana as the public did about alcohol in the 1930’s–prohibiting a substance creates a black market and fuels organized crime. We need to bring this into the daylight so we can treat the problems associated with substance abuse more effectively and tax the living daylights out of it, just like we do other harmful substances like tobacco and alcohol.
  • This is smart economics: According to a study conducted by the state, legalizing and taxing marijuana would bring in $380 million dollars over the next two years. That’s enough to save the Basic Health program, or prevent further raises in tuition to all of our state universities. It does not completely erase our budget woes, but it takes a giant leap forward.
  • Washington is uniquely positioned to try this: Washington is one of the few states in the union where we have a desire for legalization and a system already established to widely sell a controlled substance: state-run liquor stores. With such a strong record of keeping liquor out of the hands of youth, our Liquor Control Board, recently affirmed in last fall’s election, would be able to apply the same stringent standards to this new product.
  • Federal Concerns: Some are worried that federal authorities would intercede if Washington legalized marijuana. Opponents have raised the spectre of federal agents arresting our liquor store clerks as they sold the first batch to customers. However, now is the time to give this a try. President Obama has commited to not interfering with the states on this particular issue. He has directed the Department of Justice not to ensnare medical marijuana users and to defer to state authorities on this particular issue.
I believe that, like Gay Marriage and other civil liberty issues, legalization will come to pass. I think Washington has an opportunity to be on the forefront of that issue, and together we can establish a safe and workable system for ending this wasteful prohibition. Our whole country can be described as slowly casting off the shackles of Puritanism, and this is just the latest step. If it is good enough for George Washington, it should be good enough for the state that bears his name.


  1. I’m not sure that I’m ready to have MJ being sold at the local liquor store, but I think a “training wheels” first step would be to decriminalize simple possession of personal amounts. Right now possession of less that 40 grams is a misdemeanor, why not just make it a civil infraction that would allow law enforcement to simply give someone a ticket rather than subjecting them to arrest.

    As far as hemp goes, I’m all for legalizing commercial production. As the THC level in hemp is around 0.3% versus an avg of about 5.0% for MJ (20% for hash oil). The truth is that hemp is a far cry from the BC Bud that is being smoked around here…They now throw away, as by-product, the stuff that everyone smoked when I was in school.

  2. Agreed Steve. We can take baby steps, legalize possession of small amounts. That is a move in the right direction!

  3. […] Bottom Line: Sign Initiative I-1149. I will be bringing around copies with me wherever I go these next couple of months. Sign it, and then if it makes it on the ballot, vote for it. I wrote a longer post urging full legalization here. […]

  4. […] check out my previous thoughts on the subject here, where I do a post endorsing the initiative and here, where I talk about the history of marijuana in […]

  5. […] endorsement (you can read it here) and support a couple of initiatives for the general (here and here), but for the most part, I’ve tried to keep quite because of all these conflicting […]

  6. […] Initiative 1163: Vote No This is Costco’s latest attempt to shut down our state-run liquor stores and sell hard alcohol privately. I oppose this for three reasons. First, it would put hundreds of hard-working, unionized employees out of work (think about it, state run liquor stores close but would Costco hire more than a few people to added an extra shelf to sell booze?), second because it would not affect the price of liquor very much (we already get a good bargain) and finally, because we need those state run liquor stores open and running when we finally legalize marijuana. […]

  7. […] folks are off to a great start.  You can read my initial article about this initiative here, and my case for legalization here. Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  8. […] written about this initiative a couple times. I’ve made the case for legalization in general, and this initiative in particular. So in this case, I’m going to keep it really […]

  9. […] This raises a whole slew of issues as we move forward with legalization. What the nurse did, calling the cops on someone for a perfectly legal circumstance, is a serious violation of patient-doctor confidentiality. Zimmerman has filed a complaint, but I know this won’t be the last situation like this in Washington state as some are slow to accept the relegalization of marijuana. […]

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