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November 9, 2013

Column: Legal marijuana gets a boost in recent election

Coffee? Tea? Beer? Wine? A joint?

The times, they are a-changin’. Fast.

In Colorado and the state of Washington, it’s legal for adults 21 and older to possess and use small amounts of recreational marijuana. In 20 states and the District of Columbia, it’s legal to use weed for medicinal reasons.

In Tuesday’s election, three Michigan cities and Portland, Maine, legalized small amounts of marijuana in landslide votes with almost no opposition. In Colorado, about 65 percent of voters approved establishing a 15 percent tax on the wholesale sale of marijuana for adult use and a 10 percent sales tax on retail marijuana sales, in addition to standard state and local sales taxes. The money will be used in part to oversee the sale of grass in state-licensed stores.

Much as states across the nation are rushing to approve same-sex marriage laws, another huge social change is clearly on the way: legalization of marijuana for adults.

The White House says marijuana is the nation’s most-used illicit drug, with as many as 18 million Americans over 12 admitting use in the previous month. In 2006, advocates of legalization insisted marijuana is the nation’s largest cash crop, more lucrative than wheat, corn, soy or cotton. That claim has been reputably disputed, but there is no doubt that cultivation of marijuana brings in billions of dollars.

Legalization advocates slyly note that if it were legal to grow marijuana across the nation, tax coffers would expand dramatically.

Arguments against legalization are much the same as those used during Prohibition about alcohol. It can be horrifically abused and addictive. A driver under the strong influence of marijuana is just as dangerous as an intoxicated driver. We don’t want children using either substance.

But advocates of legalization are winning. One strong argument is the huge number of people in jail for drugs, including marijuana. (America has 2.3 million people in prison, more than any other nation, according to the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London. The rate per 100,000 people is almost higher than the rate in Russia, Canada and China combined.)

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