Elections are rarely what they are cracked up to be. But this year, there are good reasons to cheer — not because this party vs. that party will gain control of a legislative body. The seesawing between forms of government control strikes me as the same old. On the other hand, the roll back of the egregiously despotic war on drugs is a glorious trend to behold.

In particular, the victory for legalized pot possession in D.C. is awe-inspiring. It’s a triumph for justice and reason, and a tremendous repudiation of nearly half a century of folly. The millions of people who were harassed and caged because of this policy can’t get their lives back, but at least there is some hope for the future.

My daydream is that the jailers in D.C. will now walk up and down the hallways unlocking cages and saying to the captives: “you are free to go.” I have no idea how the results of this election will affect those who are currently battling the criminal justice system for having smoked pot. Earlier this year in D.C., a law took effect that moved transgressions from the criminal category to civil. Regardless, the vote is just one more step in the right direction.

I can’t imagine what this vote looks like to people all over Latin America, Eastern Europe, the rest of the world. After all, the U.S. war on pot, now running nearly half a century, hasn’t just been a domestic policy. It’s been a major feature of U.S. foreign policy, with the military wantonly burning crops, busting gangs, and rounding up growers all over the world.

What can it possibly mean that a local election in the heart of the world empire repudiates a policy that has had such far-reaching effects of so many around the world? It’s as if the Moscow city government in 1930 decided to legalize capitalism. D.C. has a local government that is separate from the federal government, and they are often at odds, but the proximity of one to the other makes this policy shift particular poignant.

The Washington Post points to the weirdness of it all.

The District also is home to federal agencies charged with enforcing U.S. drug laws, which still designate marijuana in a class of the most dangerous drugs, worse than cocaine and viewed equal only to the likes of heroin in terms of how addictive they are.

Get out the popcorn to watch the forthcoming battle between Congress and the D.C. City Council. It’s going to get really interesting, really fast.

I can recall the first time I visited D.C. and made my way slightly off the beaten tourist path, to discover appalling poverty and social wreckage. My naive thought at this moment ran something like this: “If the federal government hasn’t managed to solve a problem this awful only a few miles from its own headquarters, how can it dare to claim it can solve the problem everywhere else in the world?”

So it is with the War on Drugs. How can the U.S. government pretend to run a war on pot all over the world when possessing and growing it and even exchanging it is protected by law with the border where the U.S. government resides?

If you are in Virginia, the feds can break down your door, steal your stuff, and throw you in the slammer for keeping marijuana. But if you cross the border to the home of the federal government, you are in the clear.

This policy is unsustainable, and obviously so. What’s really happening is the gradual unraveling of a terrible policy that has resulted in the violation of human rights all over the world.

We also make a mistake to think that it is only about this one vote. This vote is the culmination of a number of different forces at work over decades. There have been mass education campaigns on the part of legalization activists. These have been wonderful, and these activists have endured decades of slings and arrows.

Consumer behavior is a major factor: ever more people have been breaking bad, which is to say, they are just declining to comply.

And please credit popular media too. Shows like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad” have beautifully highlighted the futility of the war on drugs. Countless movies have documented the absurdity. They all represent a form of revolt against the regime — and all are culminating now in these ballot initiatives as the last stage of production in an ongoing protest against the status quo.

Travel back in time to 1972 with Richard Nixon’s announcement that he would use all resources of the federal government to get rid of marijuana.

Not only did it not work. It actually seemed to create the opposite effect. All the “Say No” campaigns have strangely backfired. Instead of discouraging use, it has advertised it to generations who resent the hectoring and obvious injustice of it all. My own impression is that pot is more ubiquitous than ever. The parallels with alcohol prohibition are obvious.

The takeaway lesson here is significant. Government can wish, it can command, it can arrest and jail, and do this for decades. But in the end, it cannot finally control people’s behavior. People are going to do what they are going to do, and attempts to make them do otherwise result in strange perversities. The results also show that laws can change. They are a lagging indicator of underlying social change but they eventually adapt.

The lesson here applies not only to drugs but to every area of life. Government has overreached in every country, every sector, every slice of life. It can’t win when the people are determined to live their lives as they choose.