Welcome to a New America

Published on November 8, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Iris Pettigrew carries voting stickers for voters after they cast their ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

We wake to a changed nation. Right now the difference between America on November 7 and November 9, 2016, feels as profound as the soul-wrenching split between September 10 and September 12, 2001. It’s a rent in the fabric of time.

For those of us focused on the issue of cannabis legalization, last night’s ballot results came as a magnificent shock. Five states considered adult-use legalization, four voted on medical cannabis. All but one—poor Arizona—approved those measures. Almost nobody saw that coming.

These states have approved regulated legalization: California (39 million people), Massachusetts (7 million), Nevada (3 million), and Maine (1 million). These states legalized medical cannabis: Florida (20 million), Arkansas (3 million), Montana (1 million), and North Dakota (750,000).

Those states represent a total population of 75 million people.

The passage of regulated legalization in Colorado and Washington in 2012 felt like a door opening, ever so slightly. The results of November 2016 blew that door off its hinges and into the next room.

Consider this: One in five Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal for adults 21 and older. One in five.

As President Obama remarked late last week:

“The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others, they’re going to guard against transporting these drugs across state lines – you’ve got the entire Pacific Corridor where this is legal. That is not going to be tenable.”

No, that is not going to be tenable. And unless the federal government decides to deploy the DEA and the FBI against twenty percent of the American population, federal prohibition will not stand. It cannot stand.

For eighty years, science and common sense have argued against the criminalization of cannabis. Now the American public stands against it.

There is a rational and relatively easy way for prohibition to end: Follow the alcohol precedent.

In 1933, when the United States decided it was time to abandon the failed experiment of capital-P Prohibition, Congress proposed the 21st Amendment. It was extremely brief. It read, in its entirety:

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Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

The key to repeal was Section 2: The amendment actually outlawed the importation of liquor into any state—but only if that act stood in violation of state law. It was a tricky bit of lawyerly wordsmithing, but it worked. It allowed members of Congress to cast a vote outlawing alcohol while actually legalizing it.

Cannabis prohibition can end similarly. A measure in Congress that prohibits cannabis, except in states that allow it, could give legislators in anti-cannabis districts the political cover to cast a favorable vote. Let the states handle it. Most already do.

Of course, we wake up to a different America in another sense as well. The shocking election of Donald Trump has sent world financial markets tumbling, thrown 49 percent of the American public into a painful state of despair, and made the entire planet’s future plans seem tentative at best.

Many issues are larger than cannabis. We know this. Here at Leafly, we work every day to inform our readers, and hopefully some policymakers, about cannabis politics, biology, history, and culture. This is the good we can do. It’s not curing cancer, but we believe it’s helping to make the world—not just our home nation—a more just, rational, kind, and healthy place. We think we’re doing some good here.

Whether the election of Donald Trump allows us, and cannabis advocates nationwide, the chance to expand knowledge and understanding, and give millions of people the freedom to medicate or consume as they please, is impossible to say.

We will stay here and keep fighting to provide the world with factual, trustworthy information about cannabis. We will continue to chronicle the struggle to expand freedom around the world.

As Leafly correspondent Paul Roberts shuffled out of a Prop. 64 viewing party in Oakland late Tuesday night, a medical researcher who supported the successful measure ruefully watched Donald Trump’s image on a screen. “The primary reason that recreational use in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska hasn’t been shut down by the federal government is that the Obama administration has chosen to look the other way.”

“But,” he said, darting a glance at Trump, “what happens with him?”

We are stepping into an uncertain future and we will need each other—as cannabis advocates and patients, as producers and consumers, and as residents of a shared planet—in ways we can’t yet predict. Take a moment to breathe, reflect, celebrate, and lift your head for the coming days. We will need you.

Lead Image: Darron Cummings/AP

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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