Marijuana can lead to incoherence, fractured logic and disjointed thinking — and that’s just in the law books.

The federal government’s slow response to what has been happening in the states took another lurching step down a dangerous road last week, when voters in Washington state and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

With those states and 16 others, including Maine, already legalizing the medical use of the drug, there appears to be a growing societal change of attitude about how this substance should be controlled. But federal law remains rigid and unchanged, treating marijuana as a dangerous drug illegal in every application, like heroin.

Some people are probably pleased to see the states decide one by one whether they want to allow sales and collect taxes on pot or ban it from their communities, the way firecrackers are legal in some places and illegal in others. The only problem is a federal ban that makes marijuana illegal even in the states where it’s allegedly legal.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder has made it a policy not to go after medical marijuana use in states where it’s permitted, but it seems unfair to treat recreational marijuana use the same way. There are people in federal prison for violating the marijuana statute, and those laws should apply — or not apply — in all 50 states, not just in some of them.

The Washington and Colorado votes are causing international friction as well. Mexico and other Latin American countries have been under diplomatic pressure from us for years to spend money and even shed blood to keep illegal drugs out of the United States. Some in these countries have argued that the real problem is America’s demand for drugs. If more states follow this election’s results with legalization referendums of their own, it will be harder to enlist the cooperation of the governments of drug-producing countries in a global drug war that a large number of Americans don’t want.

It is long overdue for American policy makers to take a serious look at marijuana. The current system is not working. A federal ban should not survive if narcotics agents look the other way when the law is broken in some pars of the country, or arrest people for engaging in what the people of their state consider a legal activity.

The haze has been hovering around this issue for too long. We need some clear thinking for a change.


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