“Time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. But time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch” – Thomas Jefferson

2012 was a watershed moment for the legalization movement when voters in two states passed similar measures to tax and regulate marijuana as a true commercial commodity. Now, two years later, America has two functioning, legal weed states.

Colorado has had retail marijuana stores open for six months, and Washington state opened its doors to a legal cannabis market earlier this month. Yet, despite the fact that people in these two states no longer risk jail time – and now have safe, reliable access to retail cannabis – the fight is far from over.

Opponents (like SAM) will try to do everything they can to chip away at these new sensible marijuana laws, so many challenges still remain. Even in states with legal marijuana, consumers battle for their rights on many issues, including employment, drug testing, and child endangerment. Activism in Colorado and Washington is no longer about removing the criminal element: it’s about protecting and expanding cannabis consumer’s rights in a legal market.

To understand the scope and importance of this issue, here’s a look at some other social challenges that, despite any legal protections that may exist, continue to the day. The Civil Rights Act was passed 50 years ago, yet activists have been fighting to this day to maintain those rights they fought so hard for so many years ago. The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling is decades old, yet as we saw in the latest Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Case, and many of the anti-abortion bills introduced in several states the last few years, the fight is never over.

Another example is the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment remains embedded into our very constitution, yet our nation’s gun laws are in a constant struggle to balance liberty and public safety. The enduring struggle to maintain these rights have all required a persistent dedication to public advocacy. Activism and regular political engagement by key stakeholders, especially consumers, will play a major role in determining how legalization is going to play out.

Our country is also facing an interesting juxtaposition. On one hand, part of the country is working out legitimate market technicalities while on the flip side, many regions of the country continue to arrest and lock up hundreds of thousands of people every year for a marijuana-related crime, 90% of which are for possession only. In some states, resin in a bowl is grounds for arrest. It is therefore equally important that we remember our brothers and sisters living in states with punitive, zero-tolerance marijuana policies. We still need to help support victims of prohibition, and reform efforts as much as we can.

Consumers (especially young male minorities) in states such as Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Utah, Georgia, Oklahoma and many other parts of the Southeast and Midwestern United States find themselves at risk of losing their freedom and livelihood. A criminal record can significantly hinder employment and housing opportunities, and in some cases certain marijuana penalties exceed that of rape and murder.

In Virginia, growers face a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence if they’re caught nurturing just two plants. An individual in Texas is currently facing life in prison for cooking up a batch of pot brownies. Two siblings in Missouri who were recently caught with 12 marijuana plants and eight seedlings inside their home have been jailed for a total of 30 years.

These are just a few examples of what occurs every day in America, despite immense marijuana policy progression.

If we want to protect a legitimate retail cannabis market in Colorado and Washington, we have to fight to end the criminalization of pot everywhere. The security of legalization as a public policy will never be safe until nationwide prohibition has ended, and a legal marijuana market is universally available to American adults far and wide – from sea to shining sea.


Author  has spent the last 6 years working for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) fighting to end marijuana prohibition. 

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