In 2012, Washington and Colorado voters surprised the nation by authorizing the recreational use of marijuana. The outcome sent state regulators scrambling to implement the directive and supply a product source, while the federal government faced its own dilemma of whether to tolerate or squelch these state initiatives contradicting longstanding federal law. Surely the Mexican drug cartels (and other illicit growers and suppliers from Canada and within the United States) weighed the prospect for wider reform and its consequences for their multi-billion dollar industry. Although few of these uncertainties have been resolved with any clarity at the time of this writing, below I aim to situate these just-enacted allowances of recreational use within the broader history of U.S. and hemispheric drug regulation, suggesting a framework for additional reform. Having advocated elsewhere for selective legalization of illicit drugs, starting with marijuana, here I address the process of that reform. I suggest the natural order is that states, having first vilified and criminalized marijuana, should lead the way toward rational drug policy. Additionally, informed by that history, I address the appropriate responsive role of the federal government that is busily conducting the failed War on Drugs. Given the interconnectedness of Mexico and the Mexican cartels in the illicit drug trade, and, for Mexico, in the racialized origins of U.S. marijuana prohibition in the first instance, I also situate both Mexican drug policy and the Mexican cartels within U.S. reform that steers us away from the present course of a bloody war on Mexican streets and mass incarceration of communities of color in the United States. Although dismissed by some as intended to launch a stoner jubilee, legalizing recreational use carries the potential to reverse these seemingly intractable trajectories of national and hemispheric violence and oppression. When the smoke clears, we may look back years from now on the moral courage and vision of voters that helped point the nation on a different path from its last 100 years‘ failed journey.
Steven W. Bender,
Joint Reform?: The Interplay of State, Federal, and Hemispheric Regulation of Recreational Marijuana and the Failed War on Drugs, 6 ALB. GOV'T L. REV. 359