Breaking Through

Cannabis legalization is a growing reality: 20 states permit medical marijuana use, and Colorado and Washington have legalized it for all adults. But as more states line up — and more people light up — Columbia researchers wonder: what’s on the other side?

by Paul Hond Published Spring 2014
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No Heading Back?

More users. More disorders. More traffic fatalities. More developmental problems. More treatment. More research. More ice cream. More questions. That’s the prognosis uptown.

Out west, Washington State is about to roll out its legal cannabis program. Colorado, amid cannabis job fairs and campaigns against stoned driving, is projecting $100 million in annual tax revenue. And back in Washington, DC, attorney general Eric Holder ’73CC, ’76LAW has vowed not to interfere with state-sanctioned marijuana businesses. The Justice Department has also provided guidelines for banks to handle medical-marijuana money without fear of federal interference.

In February, eighteen members of Congress, pouncing on President Obama’s New Yorker quote, asked the White House to reclassify cannabis out of Schedule I. “Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws,” they wrote. On the other side, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart, criticized Obama’s comments at a meeting of the nation’s sheriffs. Last year, the DEA, which operates under the Justice Department, released a report that stated, “Legalization of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will come at the expense of our children and public safety. It will create dependency and treatment issues, and open the door to use of other drugs, impaired health, delinquent behavior, and drugged drivers.”

The Columbia researchers we spoke to, save for Hart, seem to concur with the DEA’s assessment. One can imagine, as Hart does, a spirited backlash to legalization in the near future. But will it be enough to send cannabis back to the other side?

“It will not,” says Hart, “as long as Colorado and Washington report big profits. If they do that, they’ll offset it. This is still America.”

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