Democrats got stomped across-the-board last night, ushering a cadre of frighteningly retrograde GOP candidates into office at virtually every level of government, but there is nevertheless cause for unvarnished celebration: marijuana is legal in more places! Patriotic Americans will soon enjoy the right to ingest their preferred burning plant matter without fear of police retribution in Alaska, Oregon and our Nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
One myth irrevocably busted by yesterday's results is that marijuana legalization is only attainable in traditionally "blue" states. Alaska tossed out its Democratic senator, Mark Begich, while simultaneously upholding the virtue of removing criminal penalties from possession of this non-harmful and often wonderful drug. What to make of that? (Alaska also hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.)
And then there's Colorado — which legalized marijuana to great fanfare in 2012 — where another Democratic senator was dumped in favor of the tediously spin-dried GOP'er Cory Gardner, who advocates such zany ideas as conferring zygotes with full legal rights. Some polls suggest that a majority of Coloradans might actually oppose legalization if it were put to the ballot again today.
The takeaway? This issue is still quite fluid, and there's no guarantee that the march of legalization will continue unimpeded. Robust educational initiatives must persist, as the anti-marijuana lobby is deceptively well-funded and backed by connected members of the corporate governance-establishment that rules over us plebes with oligarchic glee. In fact, such actors succeeded in killing something so modest as medical marijuana in Florida last night, thanks to an assist from multi-billionaire casino mogul and comic book villain Sheldon Adelson, who threw $5 million into the defeating the measure. Because why the hell not? He's the 12th richest man in America.
On the good news front, Oregon's nascent legal marijuana regime might be the best one yet. Some folks who ordinarily support liberalization initiatives actually railed against it on the ground that it did not provide for sufficient regulatory oversight. Oregon's state legislature may still tinker with the law, but at least for now, the silly restrictions that have dogged Colorado's implementation of legalization don't seem quite as onerous in Oregon.
Another pleasant benefit of legalizing marijuana is the stinging blow it deals to organized law enforcement lobbies, which instinctively oppose any measure that might reduce their grip on the mechanisms of governmental power, and are therefore typically drug policy reform's most ardent foes. Gary Bettencourt, head of the Sheriffs lobby in Oregon, fumed that ceasing to treat marijuana users as criminals would "tear families apart and cause more deaths." He further explained that marijuana-addled miscreants "believe such things like having the ability to stop a moving train or seeing airplanes spreading harmful chemicals down on to the earth from above." Insofar as popular approval of marijuana legalization humiliates and discredits these paranoid idiots — who otherwise almost always get what they want from legislators, because they're cops and they seek to Protect the Children — that's great for democracy. (Maybe Sheriff Bettencourt should try smoking a little weed? Might take the edge off.)
Another highlight from last night: legalization enjoyed such near-ubiquitous support in Washington, D.C. that the measure passed in 142 precincts out of 143! (But annoyingly, the new GOP-dominated Congress might try to intervene and spoil the party, as the Feds command significant jurisdiction over the District's affairs. Watch out.)
One of the troubles with punditry is that prognosticators constantly attempt to weave grand narratives to explain political trends. And while there may occasionally exist genuine national trends worth discerning, in a country as massive and diverse as the United States, this endeavor is always going to be tricky. Marijuana legalization means something different to the voters in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska than it does in Northeast Washington, D.C. It's good that both populations ultimately reached similar conclusions, but this ought not be taken as a sign that Americans suddenly stand united about much of anything. Rolling back the Drug War is still a precarious project that runs up against extremely daunting interests with financial investment in preserving the status quo. This isn't gonna be easy.
(By the way, Guam also legalized medical marijuana. Don't forget about Guam. Never forget about Guam.)