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Is It Better Than Prohibition?

The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

As we look forward to what should be a fantastically successful year for marijuana legalization, it is important that those of us who support legalization join arms and move forward in a unified manner. All political progress requires some measure of compromise, and legalizing marijuana is no exception.

Each state that legalizes marijuana, at least during this early stage of legalization, will still need to revisit the topic within a couple of years to fix things not covered in the original proposal (e.g., employment and child custody issues). We will need to expand and perfect these early models. But we must not permit the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

Supposed “Legalizers” Sometimes Opponents in Early States

In the first group of states to legalized marijuana, we witnessed some of our own friends and colleagues opposing the initiative in their state, sometimes serving as the primary opponents to the proposal, when they had the opportunity to end prohibition and stop the arrest of smokers. Their justification was always the same: the specific legalization proposal was not good enough.

Sometime their opposition was based on the failure of the initiative to permit home cultivation; sometimes it was because they opposed the DUID provisions; and sometimes they opposed the limits on the amount of marijuana one could legally possess or cultivate.

NORML has always insisted that consumers have the right to grow their own marijuana; we have led the efforts to require a showing of actual impairment before someone is convicted of a DUID; and, as consumers, we would be delighted if we were allowed to possess or grow larger quantities of marijuana, without the risk of arrest. But those are all political goals that we will continue to push for; not excuses for opposing legalization proposals that are less than perfect.

Is It Better Than Prohibition?

The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

While it is understandable that those who have invested their time and energy, and sometimes resources, to advance a specific legalization proposal would feel a vested interest in seeing that version be the one that advances to the ballot, what is most important is that one good legalization proposal qualify for the ballot, and that the legalization movement both in-state and nationwide come together to embrace and support that proposal.

Although there have been competing versions of legalization advanced in most of the states where legalization is expected to appear on the ballot this November, there are encouraging signs that a consensus is forming in most of these states supporting one of the competing proposals, increasing the likelihood of ultimate success in November. There is still too much in-fighting in some of these states between different factions, but the trend looks positive.


In Maine, there were two competing initiatives (The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and Legalize Maine), and the one with the best funding has now merged efforts with the one comprised primarily of local activists, even accepting their language for the initiative,. The result is an apparent unified effort assuring that only one legalization proposal will appear on the ballot this fall, one that has an excellent chance of being approved by the voters.

This clearly required compromise from both groups, who were willing to make some concessions in the belief that the goal of legalizing marijuana was more important than the relatively minor differences between the two proposals. All parties should be commended.


In Massachusetts, where there were two competing versions of legalization being circulated as potential voter initiatives, the qualifying process seems to have largely resolved the matter. One proposal, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, continues to meet the steps required to qualify for the ballot, and is expected to officially qualify shortly; while the other proposal, Bay State Repeal, the one that had been endorsed by the NORML affiliate in Massachusetts, MassCann/NORML, has failed to qualify. While not everyone previously involved with Bay State Repeal have agreed to support the remaining proposal, most have, suggesting the opposition in November will primarily come from the prohibitionists; not from disgruntled supporters of Bay State Repeal.

That willingness to accept a partial victory, in order to end prohibition, is the crucial element for success. Our friends in MA deserve our thanks for doing the right thing.


In California, the ultimate prize in the marijuana sweepstakes, and the state most of us presumed would be the first to fully legalize marijuana, the sheer size of the state has in the past resulted in several competing legalization proposals being advanced by different interest groups, and prohibition has continued in place, albeit a version tempered by the “anyone qualifies” medical marijuana system. The same potential was in play over the last year in CA, with as many as 8 different versions of legalization being filed with the Secretary of State, and no assurance that anyone would be willing to compromise.

But in fact, calmer heads prevailed this year in CA, with crucial leadership provided by Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and a consensus has now formed around a single proposal, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Once the sponsors were willing to accept some revisions in the language, the other leading effort, Reform CA, which enjoyed the support of CA NORML, agreed to withdraw its initiative, and most of the principles of that effort have now endorsed the Newsom effort. And it now appears likely California voters will approve marijuana legalization in November of 2016.

Again, kudos to those who saw the big picture and were willing to accept some compromises in order to end prohibition.


In Nevada, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol appears to have had a relatively unobstructed path to qualify for the ballot, without organized competition from other legalization supporters pushing their own version of legalization. That is a rare situation in the world of marijuana legalization today.


Arizona may be the exception to the rule this year. While efforts were made to forge a general agreement on the terms of the legalization initiative, with early battles over whether to allow personal cultivation, there appears to exist a great deal of enmity between supporters of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, and those supporting a competing proposal being circulated by Arizonans for Mindful Regulations, seeking fewer limitations.

The differences may not seem terribly important from a distance, but both sides are digging in, with little indication anyone is willing to compromise. There have been some steps taken to bridge the two camps by local activists, including efforts by Arizona NORML, but the two sides appear far apart.

The sometimes heated rhetoric and tactics between the competing factions has the potential to undermine a successful legalization effort in Arizona. Because the vote in Arizona appears to be close, it is most important that those who support marijuana legalization set aside their differences and agree to get legalization approved in the state. There will be time down the road, once the arrests have stopped, to come back and improve and expand these initial legalization provisions.

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