Three years ago today my life changed in a profound way. I have been a cannabis consuming Oregonian since 1993, and as such, lived in fear of persecution for over two decades from a consumer standpoint. Prior to being a consumer I still lived in fear because I was always worried about whether or not my family members would be arrested for cannabis, especially my father. My father has been convicted of three cannabis-only offenses, and as a kid I remember how heartbreaking it was when his apartment was raided and he was incarcerated.
Being a cannabis consumer in a prohibition state comes with a lot of baggage. Consuming cannabis will not wreck your life, but being caught with it in an illegal state can definitely have an enormously negative effect on your life. Even if you aren’t caught with cannabis, chances are you still have to deal with stigma. As legendary activist Kris Krane once pointed out while giving a keynote speech at an SSDP Conference (2012 in Denver), being a cannabis consumer often results in people not being able to be their ‘whole selves.’ Cannabis consumers have to keep part of their life hidden from people they know, not because they are ashamed of it, but because of what could happen if law enforcement found out.
That’s why my life changed three years ago when Oregon voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. I was at home when I received the news that the initiative had passed, choosing to hang out with my then 1 year old son rather than attend the campaign result watching event. I will never forget that moment. I was staring at my son right after learning of the results, and heard a cop car siren going off a couple of blocks from my house. It hit home right then and there – I would have to get used to not getting scared when I heard that sound, as the only thing that I did that was against the law would no longer be so in the near future.
Shortly after the successful vote Oregon law enforcement agencies stated publicly that they would suspend cannabis enforcement with legalization pending (it took about 7 months for the law to officially take effect), and freedom became a full reality. Some agencies clung to prohibition until the very last day before the law took effect, but for a lot of Oregonians November 4, 2014 was the day that their lives changed, just as mine had. Washington D.C. also voted to legalize cannabis on the same day in 2014, as did Alaska, although Alaska was a bit funky in that it took longer to count the votes because of how big the state is and much of it being rural. I seem to remember the official announcement that legalization had passed coming the next day. But the official votes were cast on November 4th, just like in Oregon and Washington D.C.
Today is the three year anniversary of the 2014 election. Oregon, Washington D.C., and Alaska joined the other legal cannabis states at the time which were Washington and Colorado (both legalized in 2012). Last year four more states joined the list (Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and California), and hopefully 2018 sees the list of legal states expand even more. Perhaps we see the first state legalize cannabis via legislative action next year? No one knows exactly what the future holds for cannabis reform in America, but I think it’s safe to say that the future is bright for reform efforts. Happy anniversary to Oregon, D.C., and Alaska! I will be putting clouds in the air where I am at today, and hope folks in those areas are doing the same!