‘Yes’ to marijuana, say Colorado and Washington

Supporters of marijuana legalization witnessed a historic moment last Tuesday when voters in Colorado and Washington state passed amendments  legalizing the right to smoke marijuana without the need of a medical prescription. 

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper warned state residents on Tuesday night, “Don’t break out the Cheetos or the Goldfish too quickly,” as it will take at least a month before the measures are officially on the states’ agendas, and several months could go by before legislators finish writing rules, tax codes and the many regulations required for creating licensed marijuana shops. Marijuana is already legal in 17 states for medical purposes and, according to CNN, it is estimated that in Los Angeles, there are more medical marijuana shops than liquor stores. 

Legalization at a federal level could save U.S. taxpayers $10 billion a year on resources that are currently spent enforcing marijuana prohibition. It would also eliminate approximately 750,000 cases of people who are arrested each year for possession which, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, “is more than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.”

In Mexico, the incoming administration plans to take the fight against drugs in a new direction. According to the Washington Times, Luis Videgaray Caso, a key advisor to President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, stated, “although the U.S. is beginning to take new measures, the president continues to oppose legalization.” 

Other Mexican voices are wondering if keeping drugs illegal is the best policy for the country.  According to the Economist, the Mexico City-based think tank, Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), argued that legalization would greatly damage the drug cartels. IMCO estimated that Mexican drug organizations earn $2 billion per year from marijuana sales and 70 percent of that income is directly related to marijuana going into the U.S. They speculate that locally grown marijuana in Washington and particularly Colorado would drive down the price of marijuana. Lower prices will most likely drive U.S. marijuana users who currently depend on Mexican exports to switch to locally grown plants. Less money and power to Mexican drugs cartels would bring higher levels of safety to border states including Texas.

Public policy expert and UTSA professor Dr. Patricia Jaramillo said she was not surprised that the policy passed. She attributed this to the fact that Colorado residents need to pre-register with a party before voting and most of the time, there is roughly an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. 

“In Texas, unlike Colorado, people cannot place ballot initiatives. In order for a similar policy to the ones in Colorado or Washington to be considered in Texas, it would have to go through the state Legislature,” Jaramillo stated. 

In spite of the votes in Colorado and Washington, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, leaving the long-term legality of the initiatives up in the air. Jaramillo believes that it is still unknown territory and that we must wait to see how the federal government acts before implementation of the policy can actually be evaluated in Texas.