Marijuana’s Foot in The Door

Nov 25, 2012

Small-time mar­i­juana use will soon be legal in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton state. Sort of. This month vot­ers in those states approved bal­lot mea­sures per­mit­ting pos­ses­sion of up to an ounce of pot. But the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has not changed its pol­icy, which labels the drug an ille­gal sub­stance. Mem­bers of Con­gress intro­duced leg­is­la­tion Nov. 16 that would allow state mar­i­juana rules to pre­empt fed­eral ones. But that, in effect, would resem­ble fed­eral legal­iza­tion, and it’s unlikely to pass any­time soon. So the states’ lead­ers are ask­ing for guid­ance from Pres­i­dent Obama’s Jus­tice Depart­ment, which, NPR’s Car­rie John­son reports, has a few options. It could enhance its own anti-marijuana enforce­ment in the states. It could sue to halt the laws’ appli­ca­tion. Or the Jus­tice Depart­ment could keep its hands off, per­haps con­tin­u­ing the approach the feds have largely taken for some time — focus­ing scarce resources on major vio­la­tors, such as big grow­ers that might serve multi-state mar­kets, cul­ti­va­tors using pub­lic lands or dis­pen­saries near schools. The last option is clearly best. There is rea­son for cau­tion about ditch­ing fed­eral pot restric­tions. Mar­i­juana can be harm­ful, and the Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion reports that potency lev­els are higher than ever. The pos­si­bly major effects on pub­lic health of more dri­ving under the influ­ence of mar­i­juana is a par­tic­u­lar con­cern. If the fed­eral gov­ern­ment removed its restric­tions, other states would find it eas­ier to fol­low Col­orado and Washington’s path. Dis­man­tling cur­rent fed­eral law, mean­while, could have a range of effects on the U.S. rela­tion­ship with Mex­ico that law­mak­ers should take time to con­sider fully, as drug car­tels’ involve­ment in U.S. med­ical mar­i­juana mar­kets indi­cates. But it’s unre­al­is­tic and unwise to expect fed­eral offi­cials to pick up the slack left by state law– enforce­ment offi­cers who used to enforce mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tions against pot users and small-time grow­ers. Unre­al­is­tic, because it would require lots more resources. Unwise, because fill­ing pris­ons with users, each given a crim­i­nal stain on his or her record, has long been irra­tional. For the lat­ter rea­son, we favor decrim­i­nal­iz­ing pos­ses­sion of small amounts of pot, assess­ing civil fines instead of lock­ing peo­ple up. Also, for that rea­son and oth­ers, the Jus­tice Depart­ment should hold its fire on a law­suit chal­leng­ing Col­orado and Washington’s deci­sion to behave more leniently. And state offi­cials involved in good-faith efforts to reg­u­late mar­i­juana pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion accord­ing to state laws should be explic­itly excused from fed­eral tar­get­ing. It’s not yet clear how a quasi-legal pot indus­try might oper­ate in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton or what its public-health effects will be. It could be that these states are har­bin­gers of a slow, national reassess­ment of mar­i­juana pol­icy. Or their exper­i­ment could serve as warn­ing for the other 48 states. For now, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment does not need to stage an aggres­sive inter­ven­tion, one way or the other. It can wait, watch and enforce the most wor­ri­some vio­la­tions as they occur. Source: Wash­ing­ton Post (DC) Pub­lished: Novem­ber 25, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​washpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.wash​ing​ton​post​.com/

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Marijuana’s Foot in The Door

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