The Perils of Pushing Pot Prohibition

Three months ago, voters in Colorado and Washington
approved ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing the possession,
production, and distribution of marijuana. A month later, Attorney
General Eric Holder
said the Justice Department would settle on a response to this
historic development “relatively soon.”How soon is that? I have been trying to get a response to that
question from Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre for about
a month, but she is not returning my calls. Meanwhile, the U.S.
attorney’s offices in Colorado and Washington decline to give any
indication of how they will treat the state-licensed marijuana
stores that are scheduled to open next year.This caginess may be a good sign, reflecting the Obama
administration’s awareness that interfering with these experiments
in pharmacological tolerance would be politically perilous. Survey
data released last week indicate that most Americans think
marijuana should be legalized, while an even larger majority says
states should be free to make that decision.In a Reason-Rupe Public
Opinion Survey completed on January 21, 53 percent of
respondents said “the government should treat marijuana the same as
alcohol.” Asked whether the federal government should arrest pot
smokers in Colorado and Washington, 72 percent said no; more
strikingly, by a margin of 2 to 1, the respondents said the federal
government should not arrest newly legal growers or sellers
either. Two-thirds of the respondents took that view.These results indicate that some people who oppose marijuana
legalization nevertheless believe the choice should be left to the
states, as a consistent federalist would. Reflecting that tendency,
most Republicans and self-identified conservatives in the
Reason-Rupe poll supported marijuana
prohibition, but most also said the federal government should not
try to impose that policy on Colorado and Washington.
News poll conducted in November generated similar results.In a December interview with ABC News, President Obama
said his administration had no plans to go after marijuana
consumers, which the federal government almost never does anyway,
but he did not say how state-licensed suppliers will be treated. He
added that “we’re going to need to have a conversation” about the
interplay between state legalization and continued federal
prohibition.So far that conversation has been pretty one-sided. Last month
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talked to Attorney General Holder about
marijuana legalization for 45 minutes. Afterward Inslee
called the meeting “very satisfying” and “a confidence
builder,” although he emphasized that Holder had made no
commitments regarding the possibility of trying to block
legalization through civil litigation, criminal prosecution, or
forfeiture threats.In the meantime, both Colorado and Washington have begun writing
the rules for growing, processing, and selling marijuana. The
Washington State Liquor Control Board is holding
hearings on its marijuana regulations, and in Colorado a

task force appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper is putting
together recommendations, due at the end of this month, for state
legislators.          It surely is not lost on Obama that marijuana legalization got

more votes in Colorado, a swing state, than he did, and

nearly as many as he did in reliably blue Washington. Any
attempt to override the will of those voters would provoke a
hostile response not just from people in Colorado and Washington
but from the large majority of Americans across the country who
believe the federal government should mind its own business.Wanda James, co-founder of Simply
Pure, a Denver-based manufacturer of cannabis-infused
food products that until now has served medical marijuana
dispensaries, understands that getting into the recreational market
could be risky. But she argues that trying to shut down that market
would be risky for the president and his party.”Three million people in America on election night voted to
legalize marijuana,” James says. “I can’t imagine the U.S.
government starting some arrest campaign on people who are
compliant with their state laws. I just can’t see the American
government doing this when the will of the people is saying


The Perils of Pushing Pot Prohibition

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