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The End of Marijuana Prohibition

LONDON – In the coming days and weeks, critics will try to minimize what voters in the US states of Colorado and Washington accomplished by backing referenda permitting marijuana legalization and regulation. They will likely produce puns and editorial gags about a legislative coup for “hippies” hosting patchouli-scented victory celebrations. They will be tempted to reduce the story to witticisms about hedonism and decadence in America’s free-thinking mountain states. But such reactions will be wrong.

In fact, America’s disastrous preoccupation with marijuana prohibition is more than a story of a relatively harmless substance being sent into legislative exile. Rather, it is part of the larger story of the country’s misguided “war on drugs,” which has resulted in the incarceration of more than two million people at any given time. It is a story of lawmakers branding young people with criminal records for actions that they may well have taken in their own youth – but without getting caught.