High Noon on Marijuana Laws
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High Noon on Marijuana Laws
Posted by CN Staff on November 09, 2012 at 05:19:01 PT
By Emily Bazelon
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
USA -- Colorado and Washington state now - except that it's not. Colorado voters passed an initiative this week allowing possession of 1 ounce and six plants. Washington voters said adults can buy an ounce from a licensed seller. But the federal government has the last word, and its ban on possession and distribution of marijuana stands. What happens next depends on the Obama Justice Department. The feds can crack down or let a new haze dawn. There is plenty of history to suggest the administration will go with a hard line - and a few glimmers of hope that it won't.
So far, amnesty isn't in the offing. "The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado said Tuesday night. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper noted that "federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly." The Colorado and Washington initiatives put the Justice Department in an awkward position. But so did California's medical marijuana law, and that has gone badly for growers and sellers. Over the past 12 months, federal authorities have shut down 600 dispensaries there. The federal government is not following the states' lead. It's asserting its authority over the states' voters and sovereignty. The federal government has this authority because of a 2005 Supreme Court case, Gonzales v. Raich, that essentially ended the march of federalism, the legal doctrine the court's conservatives had invoked to limit Congress' powers to make laws that affect commerce among the states.Angel Raich was a sick California woman who said marijuana was the only way she could combat excruciating, life-threatening pain. She argued that in light of the state's 1996 legalization of medical marijuana, the Justice Department couldn't enforce the Controlled Substances Act against her. Raich lost 6-3, with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia joining the liberal-centrist wing of the court. When it came to a choice between a federal crackdown on pot smokers and a state-led push to leave them alone, Scalia lost his appetite for favoring the states. Five years later, California voters considered a ballot measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana - as Colorado and Washington just did. A month before the vote, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a stern letter stating his intent to "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws. Voters rejected the ballot measure. If this all sounds hopeless for Colorado and Washington's tokers, though, consider two pieces of evidence that Holder may be shifting. The first is a report in GQ last summer claiming that President Obama wants to "pivot" on the war against drugs in his second term. I'm more intrigued by Holder's decision not to make a stern statement before Tuesday's election as he did in 2010, even when he came under public pressure from former ranking drug enforcers. One former drug czar called it "shocking" that Holder hadn't spoken up. But he didn't, and, meanwhile, legalizing pot in some fashion picked up an interesting array of supporters, from evangelical leader Pat Robertson to conservative campaign spender David Koch and Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker. They're all featured on the website of the group Marijuana Majority, and, as the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf pointed out last month, their statements are proof that it's time to stop laughing at the marijuana reform movement. We've all heard the jokes or made them ourselves, but there's a serious question here about whether criminalizing pot is worth the cost. Washington and Colorado voters' answer is no. Maybe their voices will give Obama and Holder pause. They should. There are plenty of questions left to answer, but now two states are offering themselves as laboratories in the classic federalist tradition of experimentation. The Justice Department should let them try. And the rest of the country can be the control group for now. Emily Bazelon is a senior editor at Slate. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)Author: Emily BazelonPublished: November 9, 2012Copyright: 2012 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.URL: Inquirer.Letters phillynews.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives 
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