Five reasons the Feds should not (will not?) crack down on legal marijuana
Ethan Nadelmann is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. He writes:
On Election Day, Washington State and Colorado became the first two states in the country — and indeed the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world — to approve legally regulating marijuana like alcohol.
It would be a mistake to call these ballot initiative victories “pro-pot.” Most of those who voted in favor don’t use marijuana; indeed many don’t like it at all and have never used it. What moved them was the realization that it made more sense to regulate, tax and control marijuana than to keep wasting money and resources trying to enforce an unenforceable prohibition.
Whether or not the two state governments move forward with regulating marijuana like alcohol will depend on two things: how the Obama administration, federal prosecutors and police agencies respond; and the extent to which the states’ senior elected officials commit to implementing the will of the people. The fact that federal laws explicitly criminalize marijuana transactions, and that the federal government can continue to enforce those laws, means that federal authorities could effectively block the initiatives from being fully implemented. But there are also good reasons why the Obama administration should, and may, allow state governments to proceed as voters have demanded.
First, keep in mind that no one needs to do anything right away. The provisions legalizing personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and (in the case of Colorado) also allowing the cultivation of up to six plants in the privacy of one’s home, will become state law once the initiatives are certified in coming weeks. But those provisions, while contrary to federal law, are unlikely to excite the attentions of federal authorities, who will be more concerned with how the states propose to regulate larger scale production and distribution. The Colorado government, however, has until July 1, and the Washington State government until the end of next year, to issue a statewide regulatory plan. That affords plenty of time for consultation and dialogue.
Second, senior state officials, including Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper and Attorney General Suthers, as well as Washington’s newly elected governor, Jay Inslee, and attorney general, Bob Ferguson, have all said that they will work to uphold the new laws, notwithstanding their pre-Election Day opposition. The two incoming officials in Washington may also be moved by the fact that the marijuana reform initiative garnered more votes than either of them did.
Third, whereas Attorney General Eric Holder warned California voters in October 2010 that the federal government would not allow the marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot at the time to be implemented if it won (which it did not), no such warning was forthcoming this year. Former drug czars and DEA chiefs banded together to urge Holder to speak out again, but both he and President Obama remained silent, perhaps influenced by polls showing strong support for marijuana legalization among young and independent voters in the swing state of Colorado and elsewhere.
Fourth, . . .