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Marijuana Border War Just Another Sign of the Fed’s Failed Pot Policy

If you’ve ever seen the great HBO series Boardwalk Empire, you know that it’s all about a guy named Nucky Thompson, played perfectly by Steve Buscemi, who essentially ran Atlantic City, New Jersey during Prohibition.

And although the show is about one guy’s influence over the resort city, the backdrop for that is bootlegging and the many illegal activities that were a direct result of the 18th Amendment and the federal government’s campaign to outlaw alcohol.

Of course, Prohibition hardly stopped people from drinking, and it really only succeeded in creating a generation of criminals who traded in illegal liquor. Boardwalk Empire is full of them, from Arnold Rothstein to Al Capone to Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

As social policy, it failed miserably, consumed a huge amount of law enforcement resources, and was eventually repealed with the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Fed policy helps spur marijuana border “war”

I was thinking about the Prohibition era while reading this story about the “border war” currently going on between Colorado and two neighboring states over the flow of recreational marijuana from Colorado, where it is legal, to Oklahoma and Nebraska, where it is not.

It’s an interesting story, and here’s the crux of it, as reported this past weekend by the Los Angeles Times:

In December, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit to stop what they say is a steady flow of marijuana across the Colorado state line. Kansas is considering joining as well.

The suit, filed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeks to strike down Colorado’s law legalizing recreational marijuana. It argues that Colorado’s statute conflicts with federal drug laws, which consider marijuana illegal, even in small amounts. …

Coloradans, however, are bristling that its staunchly conservative neighbors are trying to impose their will on the “open-minded voters” of this centrist state.”

Costly and unproductive government actions

Two things jumped to mind about this:

  1. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Colorado (and the LA Times notes that “The Supreme Court already has found that states have no duty to enforce federal law”) would be one more nudge that might help to get the federal government out of the marijuana enforcement business; and,
  2. It might help push Congress to finally tackle the issue of legalization as well, and to stop playing “Big Brother” with the states on this.

As with Prohibition, the federal government’s war on marijuana has been costly and unproductive. And as with alcohol nearly a century ago, the actions of the government don’t really seem to have any real and lasting impact on the usage of marijuana.

Confusion reigns over policy — especially with law enforcement

Even law enforcement seems ambivalent and a bit confused about what to do.

  • In Georgia, the Sheriff’s Association opposes a proposed statewide medical marijuana legalization bill.
  • In Florida, the Sheriff of Pinellas County (home to St. Petersburg), a strong opponent of the state’s proposed medical marijuana amendment, now says he supports a bill “that would allow a variety of patients to use a number of different marijuana strains,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. 
  • And in the District of Columbia, the police chief says that marijuana legalization would save officers time and energy because “having to charge someone for small amounts of marijuana … really never was productive to begin with.”

With more states looking to legalize either medical or recreational marijuana, or both, this issue is only going to get more difficult, not less. And if California actually does decide to legalize recreational use in the next two years, you’ll have the largest state with 38 million residents pointing the way to legalization — and nudging those who are still on the fence to follow suit.

Time to end the Cannabis Prohibition Era

In short, the Cannabis Prohibition Era needs to come to an end. It’s unproductive, it’s costly, it’s bad public policy, and it’s simply wrong.

Nucky Thompson and all the others in Boardwalk Empire knew that the bootlegging era wouldn’t last, and they were right. It didn’t.

The Cannabis Prohibition Era won’t last either. The legalization movement in the states are making sure of that. It’s time the Congress and the Federal Government wake up to that fact, too.


Rob MeagherRob Meagher

Rob Meagher

Rob Meagher, CBE’s Founder, President and Editor-in-Chief is a 30 year veteran of the media world. His career has spanned from stints representing the Washington Post, USA Weekend, Reader’s Digest, Financial World & Corporate Finance to the technology world where he worked at International Data Group and Ziff Davis where he was part of the launch team for The Web Magazine, Yahoo Internet Life, Smart Business and Expedia Travels before starting his own marketing and Publisher’s Representative Firm. He also ran all print and online media sales and marketing for the Society for Human Resource Management before partnering with Forbes and then Fortune to create Special Sections covering a variety of topics. Rob, who started CBE Press in 2014, can be contacted at [email protected]

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