Legalized Pot and Easing of ‘Three Strikes’ Law Mark Unique Election
The voters have spoken. Not only did they re-elect Barack Obama but in two states – Colorado and Washington – possession of small quantities of marijuana was legalized. A clear message to the federal government to back off.
At the same time California voters sent another message: the current “strike 3 and you’re out” law is way too harsh.
The measures I-502 in Washington and Amendment 64 in Colorado was the culmination of about a half century of efforts to bring some sanity to the drug laws in this country. Indeed, organizations such as NORMAL and the Drug Policy Alliance have led the campaign in recent years, fighting conservative thinking and the federal government all the way.
The war on drugs has been a very expensive war, with state and federal expenditures surpassing $50 billion in recent years. So far this year almost $35 billion has been spent on this war.
However, both Colorado and Washington face possible opposition from the federal government since under federal law pot is still included within Schedule I drugs – drugs like heroin and cocaine. NORML director Paul Armentano said that it is highly unlikely that the federal government will be actively engage in trying to prosecute cases of marijuana possession, saying that there is a lack of “manpower, political will, and public support to engage in such behavior.”
Kevin Sabet, Senior Adviser for Policy to White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) said that: "Once these states actually try to implement these laws, we will see an effort by the feds to shut it down...We can only guess now what exactly that would look like. But the recent U.S. attorney actions against medical marijuana portends an aggressive effort to stop state-sponsored growing and selling at the outset."
As to the easing of penalties of the notorious “Three Strikes” law, what can I say except, It’s about time! After years of extreme punishments, untold millions of wasted dollars, loads of research documenting its failure, the voters did what stubborn legislators and a few ultra-conservative citizens (such as Mike Reynolds) refused to do. It will take a while to investigate an estimated 3,000 cases the revised law could impact, but according to a Los Angeles Times story “The process of asking courts to revisit old sentences could take as long as two years and benefit roughly 3,000 prisoners. They represent about a third of incarcerated third-strikers.” The Times report also noted that the law might not have much of an impact on future cases in Los Angeles County since “prosecutors have followed a general policy of not seeking life sentences for relatively minor strikes since Steve Cooley became district attorney in 2000.”
Although Obama won by a slim margin, the election was partly a repudiation of ultra conservative ideology and policies. Let us hope this is a harbinger of better things to come.