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Reefer madness: End prohibition

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Incremental reductions in marijuana prohibition's societal harm are welcome. But federal and state laws' resulting conflicts must be resolved — by flat-out federal legalization, taxation and regulation.

Medical use is legal in 18 states and D.C., recreational use in Colorado and Washington state. Pew Research Center data show 52 percent of adults favor legalization, up by 11 points since 2010. Sixty percent oppose enforcing federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized use.

Yet marijuana's politically motivated 1970 federal classification as having “no currently accepted medical use” remains, frustrating researchers. The Obama administration's Justice Department talks vaguely about enforcement priorities, not about respecting states' decisions outright.

Prohibition squanders law-enforcement, judicial and corrections dollars to criminalize otherwise law-abiding Americans while forgoing potential new tax revenues — all in a failed effort against a plant that causes demonstrably less societal harm than legal alcohol or tobacco.

“Having a regulated system is the only way to ensure that we're not ceding control of this popular substance to the criminal market and to black marketeers,” says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

And the only way to do that while resolving state-federal conflicts for all Americans is federal-level reform that reflects scientific and political reality.

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