Amendment 64 supporters celebrate after a local television station announced… (Brennan Linsley / Associated…)
In adopting laws Tuesday that legalize recreational marijuana use, Colorado and Washington voters foolishly — or perhaps forthrightly — rushed in where California feared to tread. Should we follow, or simply watch and wait?
The assertion of California's Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, when it was passed in 1996 was that growing, possessing, sharing or using marijuana was to be permitted in this state solely for patients who needed the drug for its medicinal value.
Voters here dismissed the contention by federal officials that cannabis offers no health benefits; either we believed the federal law to be wrong, or perhaps we felt that whether or not the plant has medicinal value, it at least provides comfort to those with painful or terminal illnesses.
Californians also brushed aside the fact that marijuana remained an illegal Schedule I drug under federal law and could land a user and especially a seller in prison for a good long time. Federal law enforcers responded inconsistently, and allowed a medical pot infrastructure to take root here and grow.
But let's be honest. Californians also knew full well that providing health benefits was only one of the motivating factors behind Proposition 215. It was part of a continuing battle over marijuana prohibition. Our measure, although limited in scope, was for some advocates a giant step toward full legalization. California voters as a whole stuck to their original vision and decisively turned back Proposition 19, a recreational marijuana initiative, in 2010. But meanwhile, this state has completely decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for whatever purpose.
The battle continues in city halls and courtrooms as advocates press for what amounts to retail over-the-counter sales of ostensibly medical cannabis, and as neighborhoods and municipal officials struggle to impose restrictions on location, operating hours and, in some cases, product standards.
Colorado and Washington have now dispensed with the eye-winking and adopted laws that are refreshingly honest. But are they enforceable? Cities may find themselves struggling with their power to restrict the time, place and manner of marijuana sales and use. Will federal officials turn a blind eye or launch enforcement actions, as they have done here? Sober Californians must watch, listen and learn, and perhaps heed the advice that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper gave his constituents: "Don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."