Is It Better Than Prohibition?

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel January 18, 2016
    The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

    The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

    As we look forward to what should be a fantastically successful year for marijuana legalization, it is important that those of us who support legalization join arms and move forward in a unified manner. All political progress requires some measure of compromise, and legalizing marijuana is no exception.

    Each state that legalizes marijuana, at least during this early stage of legalization, will still need to revisit the topic within a couple of years to fix things not covered in the original proposal (e.g., employment and child custody issues). We will need to expand and perfect these early models. But we must not permit the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

    Supposed “Legalizers” Sometimes Opponents in Early States

    In the first group of states to legalized marijuana, we witnessed some of our own friends and colleagues opposing the initiative in their state, sometimes serving as the primary opponents to the proposal, when they had the opportunity to end prohibition and stop the arrest of smokers. Their justification was always the same: the specific legalization proposal was not good enough.

    Sometime their opposition was based on the failure of the initiative to permit home cultivation; sometimes it was because they opposed the DUID provisions; and sometimes they opposed the limits on the amount of marijuana one could legally possess or cultivate.

    NORML has always insisted that consumers have the right to grow their own marijuana; we have led the efforts to require a showing of actual impairment before someone is convicted of a DUID; and, as consumers, we would be delighted if we were allowed to possess or grow larger quantities of marijuana, without the risk of arrest. But those are all political goals that we will continue to push for; not excuses for opposing legalization proposals that are less than perfect.

    Is It Better Than Prohibition?

    The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

    While it is understandable that those who have invested their time and energy, and sometimes resources, to advance a specific legalization proposal would feel a vested interest in seeing that version be the one that advances to the ballot, what is most important is that one good legalization proposal qualify for the ballot, and that the legalization movement both in-state and nationwide come together to embrace and support that proposal.

    Although there have been competing versions of legalization advanced in most of the states where legalization is expected to appear on the ballot this November, there are encouraging signs that a consensus is forming in most of these states supporting one of the competing proposals, increasing the likelihood of ultimate success in November. There is still too much in-fighting in some of these states between different factions, but the trend looks positive.


    In Maine, there were two competing initiatives (The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and Legalize Maine), and the one with the best funding has now merged efforts with the one comprised primarily of local activists, even accepting their language for the initiative,. The result is an apparent unified effort assuring that only one legalization proposal will appear on the ballot this fall, one that has an excellent chance of being approved by the voters.

    This clearly required compromise from both groups, who were willing to make some concessions in the belief that the goal of legalizing marijuana was more important than the relatively minor differences between the two proposals. All parties should be commended.


    In Massachusetts, where there were two competing versions of legalization being circulated as potential voter initiatives, the qualifying process seems to have largely resolved the matter. One proposal, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, continues to meet the steps required to qualify for the ballot, and is expected to officially qualify shortly; while the other proposal, Bay State Repeal, the one that had been endorsed by the NORML affiliate in Massachusetts, MassCann/NORML, has failed to qualify. While not everyone previously involved with Bay State Repeal have agreed to support the remaining proposal, most have, suggesting the opposition in November will primarily come from the prohibitionists; not from disgruntled supporters of Bay State Repeal.

    That willingness to accept a partial victory, in order to end prohibition, is the crucial element for success. Our friends in MA deserve our thanks for doing the right thing.


    In California, the ultimate prize in the marijuana sweepstakes, and the state most of us presumed would be the first to fully legalize marijuana, the sheer size of the state has in the past resulted in several competing legalization proposals being advanced by different interest groups, and prohibition has continued in place, albeit a version tempered by the “anyone qualifies” medical marijuana system. The same potential was in play over the last year in CA, with as many as 8 different versions of legalization being filed with the Secretary of State, and no assurance that anyone would be willing to compromise.

    But in fact, calmer heads prevailed this year in CA, with crucial leadership provided by Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and a consensus has now formed around a single proposal, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Once the sponsors were willing to accept some revisions in the language, the other leading effort, Reform CA, which enjoyed the support of CA NORML, agreed to withdraw its initiative, and most of the principles of that effort have now endorsed the Newsom effort. And it now appears likely California voters will approve marijuana legalization in November of 2016.

    Again, kudos to those who saw the big picture and were willing to accept some compromises in order to end prohibition.


    In Nevada, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol appears to have had a relatively unobstructed path to qualify for the ballot, without organized competition from other legalization supporters pushing their own version of legalization. That is a rare situation in the world of marijuana legalization today.


    Arizona may be the exception to the rule this year. While efforts were made to forge a general agreement on the terms of the legalization initiative, with early battles over whether to allow personal cultivation, there appears to exist a great deal of enmity between supporters of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, and those supporting a competing proposal being circulated by Arizonans for Mindful Regulations, seeking fewer limitations.

    The differences may not seem terribly important from a distance, but both sides are digging in, with little indication anyone is willing to compromise. There have been some steps taken to bridge the two camps by local activists, including efforts by Arizona NORML, but the two sides appear far apart.

    The sometimes heated rhetoric and tactics between the competing factions has the potential to undermine a successful legalization effort in Arizona. Because the vote in Arizona appears to be close, it is most important that those who support marijuana legalization set aside their differences and agree to get legalization approved in the state. There will be time down the road, once the arrests have stopped, to come back and improve and expand these initial legalization provisions.

    28 Responses to “Is It Better Than Prohibition?”

    1. Craig says:

      Well said, and very true! I use that “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough” line a lot, and compromise is indeed needed in almost any area to make progress. We saw what can happen when you have such disarray in Ohio. They could have ended prohibition, but now are stuck again with it. ANY step forward is progress, and we should take it, and then keep moving forward.

      • Anonymous says:

        While normally i would agree, Ohios laat bill was so bizarre even the DEA remarked upon it. Essentially, only a small amount of very rich groups would have benefitted from the legislation. Look at Illinois’ s poor excuse of a med program. While i definitely agree that looking at the big picture is important, it’s also important to remember that “by any means necessary” can lead to negative consequences that only masquerade as legalization. Not every piece of legislation professing to be in cannabis advocates’ interests actually protects those interests or even the advocates.

    2. Michael says:

      I live in Cali. and am hoping that the language provides for all citizens to cultivate on their property, I have read that California AUMA will provide the right to cultivate indoors and the Local Jurisdictions still have the right to restrict outdoor grows, I believe that the proponents of legal cannabis should allow (mandate) outdoor grows and provide the local jurisdictions the right to restrict indoor grows, the reasons being that indoor grows:
      1- Tax existing electrical grid
      2- Life and Safety issues ie wiring
      3- The elevated chance of contact with children.
      I do not believe that outdoor grows have these potential issues going forward and should be mandated in the language, the ultimate language would be to allow bot outdoor and indoor grows as I have found that local jurisdictions will prolong having to deal with the issue. The local govt. recently rolled back the cannabis patients right to cultivate, they are also installing a 48 month sunset clause to study the issue, these folks have had over twenty years to study this issue and as a cannabis patient I am really getting pissed about this whole situation……………… But like the author said we are making progress, I just hope I live long enough to see the final product….

      • Paul T. says:

        AUMA and REFORM CA. Is for the 1 PERCENT not the
        99 percent which are the people working to end prohibition,decriminalize,and make it available to all patients in need no matter what age.Stop the corporate and political side to take over this industry and make it worse for all people of California with there greed and control!
        Support CCHI2016.ORG The only initiative by the PEOPLE for the PEOPLE that will end prohibition on all of HEMP the most resourceful plant on EARTH!
        Please support California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative 2016 for all the PEOPLE.
        http://www.cchi2016.org for more info! NOW!

        [Editor’s note: “The only initiative by the PEOPLE for the PEOPLE”
        OK…you’re as conceited as you’re incorrect. The cannabis legalization initiatives put forward by the ‘AUMA’ group and ReformCA, created by real people just like you, effectively end cannabis prohibition in the state and are not designed to benefit the so-called 1 percent.

        Why try to advance one initiative in CA by disparaging and misrepresenting the other initiatives and ascribing sinister motives where there are none?]

        • Paul T. says:

          Not conceded at all we the people want total end to prohibition and decriminalization, AUMA AND YOU’RE SO CALLED PEOPLE DOES NOT! YOURS IS A FAKE PROHIBITION
          Disparaging? and Misrepresenting? Read the Facts!

          [Editor’s note: Again, no need to act like propagandistic prohibitionists or pretending that your more human than others.

          “The new Committee announced $1.25 million in initial contributions, including from Co-Chairs and respected advocacy organizations such as Drug Policy Action, Marijuana Policy Project of California, New Approach PAC and Californians for Sensible Reform.”

          Recently the NAACP of CA also publicly endorsed AUMA.

          Trying to convince the general population that the above groups, which have done so much of the heavy lifting on cannabis law reform in the modern era, are somehow supporting an initiative in CA that does not end cannabis prohibition and replace with tax-n-regulate policies, is totally disingenuous.

          You may not agree with the language and/or don’t like the major organizations working to end cannabis prohibition, but NORML’s webpage is not a place to try to sow strife or misinformation about anything related to cannabis or cannabis policy.]

      • Concerned Citizen says:

        Michael,I hear you,cannabis needs to come out of the room and into the Sunlight.Especially in a place like California,i mean, if they had an outdoor ban In Alaska nobody would care,But in Cali ?come on.Los Angeles is the same latitude as Kabul in Afghanistan, i would think the Indica strains would be right at home in that subtropical environment. Especially in the arid inland mountain and desert regions. But it seems there are factions of conservative religious extremist on both sides of the globe.different religions but the same “control freak” mentality.Except in Afghanistan you have our military protecting the fields, while over here in the USA where we have “freedom” we have the Paramilitary police going for ‘property asset forfeit seizures’ Its a crazy world to get so bent out of shape by a botanical herb.

        And then you have Jerry Brown with his Medical Marijuana Regulation act telling cities and counties they have the option to” opt out” and create local bans and ordinances.I don’t get it, it its almost like there is a self destruct mechanism’ built into this bill.You can only get a recommendation from your “primary care physician”.Most peoples “primary care physicians are provided by their insurance companies who usually only write Pharmacy prescriptions.So i don’t really don’t know where he expects to make all this tax money from.The only thing interesting now it seems,is, maybe the police can protect these medical growing lots,like they would, if their where thieves in a commercial avocado grove,instead of raiding and looting,but other than that…

        Thats why Its important that everybody votes for The Control,Regulate and Tax Adult Use Of Marijuana act.At least its a bill they will have to abide by.6 plants for the individual.We can worry and deal with individual bans and ordinances when they arise.
        Perhaps NORML can help!?

    3. Anonymous says:

      Two Concepts, a Question:

      1) Nationwide cannabis taxation would seriously help
      pay for some of Bernie’s improvements…

      2) And, another key reason to legalize
      routinely shows up in NORML and similar forums:

      That is the chasm, between

      At any point one of us who can’t seem to find
      cannabis-friendly employment easily enough
      chooses to partake, we end up remaining unemployed/unemployable.

      IF cannabis were legalized, many who are on the fence-
      between being a tax-paying-employee and comfortable partaker-
      would not have to choose,
      as it would remove this illogical barrier.

      THIS would not, of course, account for all unemployed users-
      but many of the full-time workers, such as myself,
      have, for a couple weeks here or there, DELAYED seeking work
      to partake. On a personal, 1:1 level, this is merely one’s option-
      at a national scale, 3 weeks a year for even .1% of partakers-
      is quite possibly of useful significance.


      Question, to any brave enough to answer, honestly.

      How many weeks/months/years, in your adult life,
      have you opted for the comfortable road, versus the employed?

      My answer, as I calculate, is:
      roughly an additional 10 months,
      across the last 20 years.

      This does not include unemployed times when I was without metabolites,
      and seeking work, as is the case now.

      And if we take ballpark of 50% that I would have been employed,
      had that been the selection, that is 5 tax-payer months I blew off.

      Surely, I am not alone in this. Am I?

      => What do you think?
      Is the country missing hundreds of thousands of tax-payer-unit-hours,
      every year, while prohibition presents such a conflict of interest?

      And for any who would dismiss the ‘choice’,
      would you ALWAYS do without coffee, sugar, your favorite snack?

    4. Julian says:

      Thank you for the update Keith on state progress and how we have to compromise, often sacrificing, the “perfect” in order to pass a bill thats “better than prison.”

      Here in Texas, it appears we in the legalization community are negotiating with state-sponsored terrorists. Sound like an exaggeration? Look at child custody and marijuana law. The Sherriff’s Association, the Department of Health and Human Services and local prosecutors are in collusion to jail for profit. In a state with no voter initiative it leaves us citizen lobbying 1 on 1 with our representatives. I’m curious of how some states can “go back and fix” this one example;
      Taking state custody of children where parents or/and children consume marijuana for self medication.
      I get that lobbying the Department of Health and Human Services costs money and that could make the difference between passing or not passing marijuana reform legislation.
      However, In your list of compromises, you didn’t provide a clear example of if, how or when the Department of Health continues to lobby their position on child marijuana custody? All while owning the patent on cannabinoids as neuroprotectants #6630507?
      Here in Texas, the compassionate use act must be inferred that we intend to stop seizures in children… All while the DHHS can take custody of one’s children? Then terrorize children as leverage by forcing these isolated children to testify against their own parents?

      I realize compromise has to be made, but we can’t negotiate with state sanctioned terror, or we have lost the battle before we have begun. We can’t allow the DHHS to get away with this.

      • Patsuzwal says:

        Julian, I sincerely appreciate your sentiments. However in the interests of public knowlege please let me clarify: the patent is not on cannabinoids et al nor even on cannabinoid neuroprotectants et al. It prohibits any other entity from developing and marketing any drug created from cannabinoids as a specific neuroprotectant drug. Anyone can use whole cannabis for the neuroprotectant effect. Whether or not this specific kind of patenting is in the best interest of the medical community or the public is a VERY debatable issue, but this patent (as it exists now) will not affect any existing legalized access to cannabis for consumers.

    5. Damien says:

      It’s a tough situation because in the name of compromise, this “It’s better than prohibition!” attitude is slowly but surely, through the defunct judicial process, putting tons of the power of the cannabis industry into very few hands.

      We cannot allow the people to be robbed of so much, not after the last decade, and surely not after the last near century of prohibition.

      The lion’s share of cultivation, production, and the retail cannabis industry must stay in the hands of the people. Cannabis is ours. They had their crappy banking system and lived on the high-hog for long enough.

      Listen, we’re spearheading towards a day soon when cannabis will once again become legal tender! Not in the fiat currency respect, but as an independent currency in light of the collapse of the federal government.

      The sooner state and federal governments get out of the cannabis industry the better. There’s been enough compromise. Full legalization for both “Marijuana” and industrial hemp and return the free market!

    6. Yeh but, Ohio was, — as the Pope would say — an unbridled capitalistic disaster. Your cannabis-life supporting a monopoly is too marginal an improvement to cry “Spilled Milk!” about.

      Consider, for instance, that the economic problems of the working class are mostly a result of monopolistic powers. Sorry, but I give priority to “Power To The People,” and “Just Legalize It!” only comes in 2nd.

    7. … supporting a monopoly is too marginal an improvement to cry “Spilled Milk!” about.

      … supporting a monopoly is too marginal an improvement to cry “Spilled Milk!”

      … supporting a monopoly is too marginal an improvement about which to cry “Spilled Milk!”

      Yeh, that’s the one.

    8. Ben says:


      …not to mention,
      all the lost tax-payer hours due to incarceration.

    9. Galileo Galilei says:

      I can remember reading NORML blogs only a short time ago and realizing that either Colorado or Washington and possibly both would legalize marijuana in the next election.

      Change will come incrementally. If you’re not happy with the change, keep working for a better system. I’m guessing NORML will be leading that effort over the next few decades.

    10. Voice of the Resistance says:

      With the legalization of marijuana in other states people are starting to lose their fear. This is so cool and exciting, to be part of a group that has formed, and meets at a local coffee house every Sunday at 4:20 pm. A New Approach Idaho seeks to legalize medical marijuana decriminalize under 3 ounces for personal use, and introduce industrial hemp to Idaho.

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