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Welcome to a New America

November 8, 2016
Iris Pettigrew carries voting stickers for voters after they cast their ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
We wake to a changed nation. Right now the difference between America on November 7 and November 9, 2016, feels as profound as the soul-wrenching split between September 10 and September 12, 2001. It’s a rent in the fabric of time.

For those of us focused on the issue of cannabis legalization, last night’s ballot results came as a magnificent shock. Five states considered adult-use legalization, four voted on medical cannabis. All but one—poor Arizona—approved those measures. Almost nobody saw that coming.

These states have approved regulated legalization: California (39 million people), Massachusetts (7 million), Nevada (3 million), and Maine (1 million). These states legalized medical cannabis: Florida (20 million), Arkansas (3 million), Montana (1 million), and North Dakota (750,000).

Those states represent a total population of 75 million people.

The passage of regulated legalization in Colorado and Washington in 2012 felt like a door opening, ever so slightly. The results of November 2016 blew that door off its hinges and into the next room.

Consider this: One in five Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal for adults 21 and older. One in five.

As President Obama remarked late last week:

“The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others, they’re going to guard against transporting these drugs across state lines – you’ve got the entire Pacific Corridor where this is legal. That is not going to be tenable.”

No, that is not going to be tenable. And unless the federal government decides to deploy the DEA and the FBI against twenty percent of the American population, federal prohibition will not stand. It cannot stand.

For eighty years, science and common sense have argued against the criminalization of cannabis. Now the American public stands against it.

There is a rational and relatively easy way for prohibition to end: Follow the alcohol precedent.

In 1933, when the United States decided it was time to abandon the failed experiment of capital-P Prohibition, Congress proposed the 21st Amendment. It was extremely brief. It read, in its entirety:

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

The key to repeal was Section 2: The amendment actually outlawed the importation of liquor into any state—but only if that act stood in violation of state law. It was a tricky bit of lawyerly wordsmithing, but it worked. It allowed members of Congress to cast a vote outlawing alcohol while actually legalizing it.

Cannabis prohibition can end similarly. A measure in Congress that prohibits cannabis, except in states that allow it, could give legislators in anti-cannabis districts the political cover to cast a favorable vote. Let the states handle it. Most already do.

Of course, we wake up to a different America in another sense as well. The shocking election of Donald Trump has sent world financial markets tumbling, thrown 49 percent of the American public into a painful state of despair, and made the entire planet’s future plans seem tentative at best.

Many issues are larger than cannabis. We know this. Here at Leafly, we work every day to inform our readers, and hopefully some policymakers, about cannabis politics, biology, history, and culture. This is the good we can do. It’s not curing cancer, but we believe it’s helping to make the world—not just our home nation—a more just, rational, kind, and healthy place. We think we’re doing some good here.

Whether the election of Donald Trump allows us, and cannabis advocates nationwide, the chance to expand knowledge and understanding, and give millions of people the freedom to medicate or consume as they please, is impossible to say.

We will stay here and keep fighting to provide the world with factual, trustworthy information about cannabis. We will continue to chronicle the struggle to expand freedom around the world.

As Leafly correspondent Paul Roberts shuffled out of a Prop. 64 viewing party in Oakland late Tuesday night, a medical researcher who supported the successful measure ruefully watched Donald Trump’s image on a screen. “The primary reason that recreational use in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska hasn’t been shut down by the federal government is that the Obama administration has chosen to look the other way.”

“But,” he said, darting a glance at Trump, “what happens with him?”

We are stepping into an uncertain future and we will need each other—as cannabis advocates and patients, as producers and consumers, and as residents of a shared planet—in ways we can’t yet predict. Take a moment to breathe, reflect, celebrate, and lift your head for the coming days. We will need you.

Lead Image: Darron Cummings/AP

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

View Bruce Barcott's articles

  • Cosmo Politan

    This is a magnificent victory for the United States! My states, Florida and Massachusetts, as well as others, have chosen to view Cannabis differently. It is going to be intriguing on watching what occurs in that western corner of America, with Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada (it is a shame Arizona could not join them) all having legalized Marijuana to the maximum. The dankness will flow like no end!

    I would say do not worry about Donald Trump, for though he is a not a supporter of recreational Marijuana, he has explicitly mentioned that he does wholeheartedly support medical Marijuana. This is still radiate news for us Cannabis enthusiasts!

  • Kingsley Abrokwah

    As an Arizona resident, it breaks my heart that it didn’t pass. There was an incredible amount of deceptive advertising that I saw which I’m sure contributed to this awful decision. This state is on the wrong side of history.

    • TweetyBird

      I had a feeling it wouldn’t pass here, but I bet it will the next time it’s on the ballot, in 2018 or 2020. Meanwhile, it’s pretty easy (though expensive) to get a medical marijuana card.

      Totally agree about the advertising against it, which basically consisted of nothing but lies.

      • noah vail

        lying is the basis of republican strategy…there is no lie they won’t tell as long as it suits their agenda…they have no morals or even a sense of shame…it doesn’t get any lower than a republican…

        • Jim Hat

          You are an incredible hypocrite. All the DNC and Hillary Clinton did was lie, see WikiLeaks.

        • Jim Hat

          unless your a democrat, did you not read Wikileaks?

    • Jim Hat

      It was a horribly written proposition. All they had to do was decriminalize it, not create a whole new government agency with a political appointee as the leader. Arizona will try again; hopefully with a much better proposition.

    • Jim Hat

      The tax of 15% was also too high. 5% would have been far more effective stopping the cartels.

      • Excuse me

        Washington State 37%

        • dianehappylife420

          Denver is 20%

  • Excuse me

    Bruce, well said, although your hyperbole on the state of the entire planet over a Trump presidency is a bit much, but it could follow that a well informed business approach to tax dollar usage might see value in ending the Federal witch hunt regarding weed. One can hope, anyway.

    • Tim Murphy

      Until you find out the new Attorney General is very much anti-legalization. Trump’s Attorney General recently said “It’s time for adults to handle the issue” and “good people don’t smoke pot”!

      • Excuse me

        Well, Tim, you should hope that New Federalism prevails, and that the attitudes continue to advance past 2005’s Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich. Two states, now with laws on the books to allow recreational use, California and Washington State, filed briefs on behalf of Raich, a home grower, but so did very conservative states, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi–not so much as pro-weed, but pro-New Federalism.
        Just like Holder and Lynch have been Obama Administration employees, Sessions will be Trump’s employee. We’ll just have to see how this plays out. Harassing people for weed is a waste of tax dollars, and simultaneously a windfall for the State that legalizes it.

  • Paul Sorensen

    It is incredible to see this revolution taking place! This wave will build and Arizona will be swept up in it. Based on what Trump has said, he supports state’s rights. I hope this is true. A lot depends on his choice for AG.
    It’s waaay too early to judge. One thing is for sure, the genie is out of the bottle. This can not be stopped or ‘turned around’. And the entire west coast is now GREEN!

    • Etidorhpa

      If your a republican and love america they will delete your post!

  • Open Minds

    Sorry but the author has it wrong. Alcohol was essentially made illegal through an amendment to the constitution (18th Amendment). There is nothing in our constitution that says cannabis is illegal. Cannabis for recreational and medical purposes was made illegal at the federal level by the Controlled Substances Act. The Act was passed by Congress, but the DEA & FDA decide which substances are on it and their schedule. If the DEA & FDA remove cannabis from the schedule (Congress has no say on scheduling), then cannabis is no longer illegal at the federal level and it becomes solely a states’ issue.

  • Austin

    Hey guys, it actually IS curing some peoples’ cancer, you can’t deny that!!!

  • Etidorhpa

    Fuck you. Why am i categorized as Spam, just because I love America as a Republican. I hope Trump deports you!

  • Jeff

    Did he just compare a presidential election to a day we were attacked by terrorist and lost to many lives of fellow Americans to even count? I can totally see the connection!


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  • Tim Murphy

    Too bad Trump’s Attorney General is hard line against legal cannabis. He recently stated that it’s “time for adults to handle the issue” and “good people don’t smoke pot”. Enjoy while you can, because there is a good chance that Sessions will come down hard on legal states.

  • $parkle Puss

    I’m trying to keep an open mind about this administration, but not so open my brain falls out.

    Already we’ve got Pence, who went out of his way to have kratom (a very safe herbal painkiller) banned in Indiana when he was governor, and Jeff Sessions, who said “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Not a hint of irony or joking sarcasm when he said it.

    As bad as Obama was about domestic spying and busting medical mj shops in his first term, conservatives are worse on drug policy. I hope I’m wrong but I smell another Reagan-style crackdown coming. Maybe not on legal states and maybe not just on pot, but on drugs and personal liberties in general. It’s what happens when the “small government” neocons are in power, and boy are they in power now. The House & Senate are overpowered by them for the first time since the Great Depression. I hope my fellow Leaf-Lovers are prepared to fight, because it’s going to be a long 4 (or god forbid, 8) years.

  • dianehappylife420

    Get your legal CBD oil today!! My mom has been taking it for a week now, and her arthritis is at an all time low!!