As the legal landscape of marijuana continues to evolve, it's important to understand the history of how we got here. For decades, possession of marijuana has been criminalized in most states, but now, states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have legalized recreational use of the drug. Even Washington D.C appears on the brink of following suit. Despite this progress, marijuana remains illegal under federal law and the law of most states. There are still many powerful people and organizations who feel it is their duty to enforce these laws.
The argument often made by prosecutors, judges, and politicians is that as long as a law is on the books, it must be enforced. However, this is a narrow-minded view that ignores the reality that laws are not static and unchanging. Most laws grew out of societal customs, which eventually became moral attitudes and were established as laws. Long before statutes were passed, the majority of people had already formed their attitudes and notions of right and wrong. Statutes are simply a codification of existing norms.
Every once in a while, an active minority, motivated by religious fervor, political intolerance, or some other special interest, is able to pass a law not founded in common sense morality. These laws are often draconian, arrogant, and oppressive. They violate public conscience and the beliefs of many citizens. No better illustration can be found than the laws enacted by the Inquisition, which were used to torture and execute millions of people.
Change in the law often comes not from repealing outdated laws, but rather from people refusing to enforce them. Juries, composed of common people, have the power to refuse to convict under oppressive laws, effectively rendering them null and void. This is what happened with the Inquisition laws, laws against organized labor, and so-called "Blue Laws."
It's important to remember that this change in the law came not because the statutes were repealed, but because juries were too humane and decent to follow them. As society continues to change, so too must our laws evolve to reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the people they serve.