Today is the 81st anniversary of the repeal of federal alcohol prohibition.
The 21st Amendment ended the failed experiment of Prohibition and delegated the issue of alcohol legalization and regulation solely to the states.
The 21st Amendment was neither “for” nor “against” alcohol. It was simply an acknowledgment that federal prohibition was an obvious failure and a nod towards state’s and individual rights. No state was required to legalize alcohol. It was their choice.
The repeal of prohibition has been a tremendous success. This country has the best regulated beverage alcohol industry in the world while still being the world’s most dynamic. Just ask any beer drinker!
Fast forward to the present. Republicans made huge gains in last month’s elections, decisively winning control of the Senate, increasing their dominance in the House to a level not seen since the 40’s, controlling 33 governorships and more state legislators than any time since the 1920s. They now have the opportunity to cement and expand these gains and to create a permanent majority.
How? By leading the charge to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. You don’t have to be “pro-cannabis” to be against prohibition.
Like it or not, illicit marijuana is available in every corner of this country. Any teenager can get it with little effort. Most say it’s far easier to get than beer.
Criminal gangs across the country rake in tens of billions of dollars each year selling marijuana. Milton Friedman once said, “See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.”
In 2012, 750,000 people were arrested for mere possession. That’s about one arrest every 48 seconds! And a disproportionate number of the people arrested on marijuana-related charges are minorities.
The federal prohibition of marijuana has been as profound a failure as the attempted federal prohibition against alcohol. The solution is the same. Let the states decide and regulate as they see fit.
Here in Colorado, the legalization of marijuana has been a resounding success. Teen use is down. Auto fatalities are at near historic lows. Crime is down across the board. Tax revenue is flowing in.
If Republicans want to expand their base, they need to show they truly believe in a liberty-based agenda. Reach out to groups that historically have not been favorable to the Republican brand and prove through action that they have much more in common than they might think. Individual freedom is a winning message for people of all colors and all walks of life.
Republicans in Congress should pass legislation within their first 60 days in office repealing federal prohibition and placing the issue with the individual states and their citizens.
A statement such as, “I’m personally against it but believe in the wisdom of the people” can be a get-out-of-jail-free card for all who fear being branded pro-marijuana. The issue isn’t for or against marijuana but rather whether a legal, state regulated market is preferable to a prohibition market. Alcohol or marijuana, the answer to this is clear.
The alternative is Republicans turning off another generation of voters who think of them as the party that speaks of individual freedom but whose actions suggest they want to control other people’s lives. These folks have seen the failure of big government and most big institutions. Their loyalty can be obtained, but the party has to walk the walk.
Think I exaggerate? Here in Colorado, the Republican challenger for governor was ahead by 10 points in a September poll. Then, showing the Republican skill for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, he stated he would like to recriminalize marijuana. His lead evaporated almost overnight.
He lost by 58,000 votes and singlehandedly damaged the Republican brand for a generation of young Colorado voters. There are over 10,000 people directly employed in this Colorado industry and hundreds of thousands of consumers. That’s a lot of voters to antagonize; many of them motivated single issue folks.
What if the GOP could create a new supporter every 48 seconds rather than trying to throw them in jail?
Freedom and liberty win. Prohibition and attempting to control people’s lives loses. Republicans, if you believe what you say, end the federal prohibition on marijuana. A permanent majority awaits. It is yours for the taking.
John Conlin is a self-employed management consultant providing services to beer, wine, and spirits distributors across the country. He is also in the process of starting a marijuana-infused edibles company.