If It’s Legal To Smoke, and There’s a Legal Market, Then It’s Legalization

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel August 24, 2015

    I recently attended the 2015 Seattle Hempfest, and it was again this year a lovely celebration of all things marijuana. The first day was a rainout, a rarity for this event, but the final two days brought good weather, large crowds, and a good time for all.

    If Marijuana Is Legal, Why Do We Need Hempfest?

    As someone asked me when I first arrived at my Seattle hotel, “why are they still holding the Hempfest now that marijuana is legal in Washington state?” It is true that the Seattle Hempfest began as a protest against marijuana prohibition – in fact the sponsors frequently use the term “protestival” to describe this annual festival.

    Washington state became one of the first two states, along with Colorado, to legalize marijuana in 2012, breaking the chains of marijuana prohibition and forever reshaping the legalization debate both nationally and internationally. But much work remains to be done in Washington (and the few other jurisdictions that have voted for legalization to date).

    Personal Cultivation Needed in Washington

    Specifically, in Washington state we need to amend the law to permit personal cultivation; the right to grow one’s own marijuana should be respected in all states, both as a basic consumer right and as a guarantee that the legal market will remain responsive to the needs of consumers. Consumers want marijuana that is good quality, safe, convenient and affordable.

    Important Improvements Needed in All Legalization Jurisdictions

    And in all of the legalization states we need to legalize and license marijuana lounges or coffee shops, where adult smokers can socialize outside the home. Marijuana smoking is a social activity and smokers should certainly be permitted to gather with others in designated venues to socialize. But to date, no state has allowed that.

    And we need to continue to improve these early legalization laws, so we treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly in all respects. That is, we need to end job discrimination against legal smokers, absent a showing of impairment on the job; to stop presuming legal smokers are unfit parents, without a showing of abuse or neglect; and to require a showing of actual impairment before someone is charged with a marijuana-based DUID offense.

    So marijuana smokers still have lots of policies to protest, even as we are ending prohibition one state at a time. But it is also true that some of these public events, such as the Seattle Hempfest, have now become more celebration than protest – in this instance, celebrations of personal freedom. Following 75-years plus of prohibition, and tens of millions of marijuana arrests, it is understandable that marijuana smokers want to celebrate their hard-won victories.

    What Is Legalization?

    But I did hear a couple of speakers at the Hempfest make the rather strange claim that marijuana “is not legal” in Washington state, as a way to show their displeasure with some of the limitations and regulations in place in their state. Instead of celebrating with pride the key role Washington state has played in jump-starting the marijuana legalization movement, they were attempting to twist the common meaning of “legalization”, apparently believing that to refer to the current law as “legalization” would somehow undermine their desire for improvements in the law.

    So perhaps we need to spend a couple of minutes to see if we can agree on a common meaning of legalization, so we don’t fall into the trap of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. In my dictionary “legalize” is the antonym of “criminalize.” If marijuana is no longer criminal, it is legal.

    There are a few vocal protagonists who insist that it is not “legalization” if it is regulated; if there are limits on the quantity one can possess or cultivate; if it is taxed; or even if there are age controls. But under those definitions of legalization, automobiles and automobile driving, for example, would not be “legal”. Nor would alcohol and alcohol drinking, or many other activities that are regulated and taxed, and include age limitations.

    I feel comfortable saying that the vast majority of Americans would say if it is legal for adults to smoke marijuana, and if they can buy it from a legal market, that is “legalization”. It may not be a perfect system, but it is nonetheless legalization.

    Whether you approve of all the provisions of the Washington marijuana law or not, private marijuana use is now legal and adults can buy their marijuana from retail stores. It is, without question, a version of legalization, and smokers in 46 states would love to have the Washington marijuana law in effect in their states.

    The Critics

    Those who advocate for systems which include fewer regulations and controls, or none at all (some are demanding that marijuana be considered a commodity, like tomatoes or sweet corn) surely have the right to try to convince a majority of their state’s voters, or state legislators, to adopt such a system. But it is silly, and to some degree self-defeating, to claim that other versions of a legal system are not “legalization.” These new laws, although none are perfect, should be a subject of great pride, evidence of the incredible progress we have made reforming marijuana policies in this country over the last few years.

    In Washington state there were, before prohibition was ended, about 7,000 individuals arrested on minor marijuana charges annually. This year there have been less than 150 marijuana arrests. I’m sure most smokers in Washington state would view that dramatic change as evidence that the legalization law approved by the voters in 2012 was an important step forward, even as they realize it is far from perfect.

    So instead of making the bizarre claim that marijuana is not legal in Washington state, those who support improvements to that law should celebrate and take pride in the fact that they were one of the first two states to challenge the federal government and bring an end to marijuana prohibition, and get to work tweaking their legalization law so it is even better.

    Otherwise, they are just sore losers who remain committed to undermining the new law.


    This column was first published on Marijuana.com.



    21 responses to “If It’s Legal To Smoke, and There’s a Legal Market, Then It’s Legalization”

    1. Don M says:

      If Good Ol’ Boy Joe Biden was to become our next president, you can all kiss your weed goodbye. He is one of worst offenders regarding locking people up by the thousands for using marijuana. Take a look at this link I’ve provided to learn more.


      Just say “HELL NO” to anything Biden!!!

      Seriously, considering his record, I’d choose even Trump over that human POS!

    2. JAY says:

      To the sore losers in Wash, come to Ill or Wis. You might find something to be real sore about!

    3. Miles says:

      I’d be one of the happier people on the planet if my state had laws like those in CO or WA!!!

      For now, I live in Nazi Virginia – the land of big tobacco and private prisons. My family is planning to move from here as soon as we can sell our house; not an easy thing to do here without taking a huge loss…

    4. Evening Bud says:

      Keith, very well stated! I would give my eye-tooth to have Wash’s form of legalization in my state. Instead, the black market is the only alternative here (unless you qualify for MMJ).

      I wasn’t able to afford a vacation to Colorado this year, and I can tell you, after testing and tasting that CO pot, I was sorely disappointed by the stuff I returned to. It wasn’t my contact’s fault–that’s all he had.

    5. Wayne says:

      I have nothing but admiration and respect for Keith Stroup. Everything he said in this article is correct, including the last sentence. But he should have left the last sentence out nonetheless.

    6. Patricia says:

      Beer is legal in Germany but that has never stood in the way of Oktoberfest.

    7. mexweed says:

      Good points by Keith, but again I counted 11 uses of “$moke”. “$mokers” etc. and that old photo showing Keith with a monoxide joint and wasted $moke flying away etc. (if we only had that much money heh heh). Please don’t let kids seeing Dad reading your column think you are endorsing $igarettes…

      Might be a good place to clarify that, yes, a flexdrawtube one-hitter has been considered a $moking device, but there is an easy-learn Heat-not-Burn method for using it as a vaporizer!

      With thanks to Julian for originating the genre, here is an edu-lyric:

      “Suck slow,
      don’t glow
      till after 19
      seconds or so.”

      Afterwards breathe 30 warm wet W’s in and out of a breathbonnet (Lunchspielhaus) in honour of the Dawgwagner.

      Don’t hesitate to make an EL CHEAPO one-hitter with two (2) foot-long quarter-inch diameter drawtubes, which converts any closet, passageway or furnace room into a lounge where cannabists can SOCIALIZE– but I think that once $moking has entirely given way to vaporization no one will oppose any public library being a legal cannabization studio!

      PS: boycott Bic lyters, they are designed to burn an inch high every time to quickly light (MOF) monoxide overdose fags– buy and use the cheapo Chinese with a flame height lever and set the flame at one half inch so you can keep it burning 19 seconds an inch BELOW the mini-crater of your utensil (air entry temperature 385F/197C).

    8. Bob Constantine says:

      With all due respect Keith, it seems like you are equating permission based legalization with something akin to freedom.

      If another entity can punish you for growing, possessing or trading “too much” of something, there is still a very clear and pervasive stink of Prohibition in the room.

      Free people self regulate THEMSELVES, Prohibitionists regulate others.

      We all own ourselves, but none of us individually or collectively own others. If you think you do, you are promoting “prohibition lite” and disrespecting others right to self determination.

      I own me, you own you. The government owns nobody and cannot at once prohibit freedom and protect it.

    9. Ruben Jesus Hernandez says:

      People need and deserve real cannabis freedom not fake freedom monopolies.

      Vote for initiatives that provide the most freedom like the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2016.


      Grow 99 Plants, No permit, license, or tax shall be required for non-commercial cultivation with CCHI 2016.

    10. Julian says:

      “Those who advocate for systems which include fewer regulations and controls, or none at all (some are demanding that marijuana be considered a commodity, like tomatoes or sweet corn) surely have the right to try to convince a majority of their state’s voters, or state legislators, to adopt such a system. But it is silly, and to some degree self-defeating, to claim that other versions of a legal system are not “legalization.” -Well stated Keith!



      Nothing amazes me more than the two greatest mis-interpretations of the word “legalization,”;
      The first, and most familiar, is the scared yet too proud to lose prohibitionist that believes that ” legalization” means absolutely NO regulation and that we weed activists are out to provide legal heroin to their children. I’m serious, I actually had an older brother tell me that in response to me saying I support legalization. I had to explain to him how a black market is created by outlawing a commodity, making said commodity unregulated and potentially toxic. But what are you going to do when someone’s ego is tied to Fox-aganda? Facing the scary prospect that your definitions might be misplaced is hard enough without calling propaganda “news.”

      The second bull$#!+ misinterpretation I always face for legalization is right along the lines of what Keith is saying here; “My legalization is pure and perfect, so I’d rather see people continue to get incarcerated than accept anything less than tax-free, no government regulation marijuana cultivation.” These people want NO government regulation, NO taxation (which means NO representation), and ignore how turning subsidies for prisons into revenue for public education positively moves our movement peacefully forward. And to these people I say, “Bull$#!+!” Denying a legalized method of reducing socioeconomic inequality, disproportionate incarceration, Federally sanctioned violence and by denying re prioritization of mental health budgets, providing medicine to the sick and freedom to the poor… Just because some quasi-prohibitionist is happy with their medical card or doesn’t want to pay taxes in a state that accepts voter initiatives? We’re not falling for it this time.
      California was fooled once, shame on you “perfect-or-nothing-prohibitionists.” If California gets fooled twice, it’s shame on the voters. Get the vote organized; If one American is being incarcerated and her son taken away for him speaking up in a DARE program and for her growing weed to treat her Chrone ‘s Disease in Kansas, we ALL lose our Freedom! Let’s get organized and VOTE yes OHIO! Vote YES California! Vote YES to legalize marijuana for ALL our American Freedom!