Governor Brown Speaks Out, Telling Feds to Stay Out of Marijuana Laws by States

marijuana2For years since California passed its medical marijuana law, the federal government, often to the bewilderment of many who wonder about the prioritization of resources, has battled the state on the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries, often conducting raids and arresting providers of marijuana to cancer and other terminal patients.

On Tuesday, Colorado and Washington went a step further by making marijuana legal for all purposes.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Governor Jerry Brown said, “It’s time for the Justice Department to recognize the sovereignty of the states.”

“We already have a fair amount of marijuana use in the guise of medical marijuana,” he said. “There’s abuses in that field.”

However, the governor believes that the states can handle this issue on their own without the interference or intervention by the federal government.

“We are capable of self-governance,” he said pointedly.  “We don’t need some federal gendarme to come and tell us what to do. I believe in comity toward the states, that’s a decent respect.”

Meanwhile, Colorado and Washington are awaiting what the federal response will be to their new liberalized marijuana laws – the first in the nation to completely legalize the drug.

The Washington Post reported last week that “senior administration officials acknowledged Friday that they are wrestling with how to respond to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, which directly violates federal drug law and is sparking a broad debate about the direction of U.S. drug policy.”

The paper reports, “The most likely outcome will be that the Justice Department will prevent the laws from going into effect by announcing that federal law preempts the state initiatives, which would make marijuana legal for recreational use, law enforcement sources said.”

But, as one unnamed law enforcement official told the Post, “I really don’t know what we’re going to do.”

The Post reports, “Before the election, the Justice Department did not respond to nine former administrators of the Drug Enforcement Administration who wrote a letter urging the administration to take a stance on the ballot proposals in all three states.”

There may have been political reasons for that, as one official “suggested that the administration’s silence was a deliberate strategy to avoid antagonizing liberal voters in Colorado, a crucial swing state.”

“It was a battleground state,” said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly.

One of the key questions is that of enforcement.  If the state has essentially decriminalized the personal use of marijuana in less than an ounce, is the federal government really going to utilize its resources to enforce the federal prohibition of marijuana in small quantities?

The Huffington Post reported on Friday that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper “has said Colorado will respect the will of voters but added that he was awaiting word from the U.S. Department of Justice on how to proceed.”

“In a situation like this, where our law is at loggerheads with federal law, my primary job is to listen first,” the governor said.

The governor opposed the ballot measure and does not believe that it will be marketed in Colorado commercially.

“Based on federal law, if it’s still illegal under federal law, I can’t imagine that 7-Eleven is ever going to sell it,” he said.

The U.S. government has cracked down during the past two years on more than 500 marijuana dispensaries in several states, but no one has faced federal prosecution for personal use, the Huffington Post reported.

“It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end,” said Brian Vicente, co-author of Colorado’s marijuana measure.

Earlier this week, Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitri said enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act remained unchanged.

“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance,” Ms. Chitri said. “We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time.”

Colorado’s measure would take effect on January 5, 2013.  It would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess an ounce of marijuana and up to six plants.  However, public use of the drug as well as driving while intoxicated remain illegal.

The measure directs lawmakers to write regulations on how pot can be sold, with commercial sales possible by 2014.

Washington’s measure repeals state laws against marijuana possession and state law officers would be “unable to pursue charges against anyone 21 years old or older caught with an ounce or less of marijuana.”

Like the Colorado law, it also creates a legal market for marijuana in the state.  It requires “the state Liquor Control Board to create a structure through which marijuana distribution and production are licensed and taxed.”

Marijuana then could be legally sold to people over 21.

Legal analysts believe it is unlikely the federal government could stop the state from repealing its own drug laws.  However, they believe that the federal government could prevent the establishment of legal marijuana commercial enterprises.

Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, who is running for governor of the state of Washington, told the local paper that he hopes to work with federal authorities on the issue and suggests they should respect the will of the people.

“We’re going, early in the term, to have an open and frank dialogue with the administration in how we hope they will respect the will of Washington voters,” said Representative Inslee, who is considered the favorite to replace the current governor in 2014.

“Representative Inslee suggested the Department of Justice has ‘a lot of discretion’ in pot enforcement.  That discretion, he argued, should be exercised,” the paper reported.

“Our voters have spoken:  There is not an urgent national security reason not to respect the will of our voter,” Representative Inslee added.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Governor Brown Speaks Out, Telling Feds to Stay Out of Marijuana Laws by States”

  1. Rifkin

    One of the unfortunate consequences of our having a federal government which treats its war on marijuana much the same as it treats its war on terrorism is that in the states where marijuana sales for “medical” purposes is legal and now in Colorado and Washington where it is legal for recreational purposes is that the states and municipalities have been hamstrung in developing reasonable regulatory policies to deal with the marijuana industry.

    What I would like to see in California is the development of marijuana exclusion zones*, where sellers and buyers and even growers could come together to conduct business, without harming any third parties. These zones then could be well regulated for health and safety. The sales and income could be efficiently taxed. And the participants in this enterprise would not have to fear the DEA charging them with crimes.

    Likewise, states should be strictly regulating commercial pot farmers. That is entirely impossible with the DEA involved. It is ridiculous to have pot farmers growing a commercial crop in their backyards. They cause real problems for neighbors. Likewise, it is insane to encourage outlaws to destroy the wilderness by growing marijuana in the deep backwoods of public lands. Much better would be to have pot grown commercially on land zoned for agriculture, more-less the way corn and alfalfa are grown in Yolo County. But because marijuana is a toxic drug, it might be sensible to require farmers to have licenses to grow that crop. They should have to erect fencing; and whatever chemicals they apply need to be regulated to make sure they are not dangerous to pot users.

    But as long as the feds conduct the war on marijuana in the manner they do, the sellers and growers of this crop will forever be in legal jeopardy, and states and cities will not be able to effectively regulate this business.
    *I think industrial or warehouse areas would be good candidates for a legal marijuana zone. In my opinion, marijuana sellers should not be permitted in traditional retail spaces or next to residential properties. I am not completely familiar with the problems that “medical” marijuana clinics have caused in cities in California. But a friend of mine who is an attorney in Los Angeles told me that a client of his, who owns some high-end women’s shoe + fashion accessory stores, closed down a store of his last year in the mid-Wilshire District because a marijuana clinic two doors down had driven away his customers. And that same client saw business at another store he owns increase dramatically after a different pot clinic by his West L.A. store went out of business. Bottom line: these businesses do not belong in ordinary retail environments.

  2. Don Shor

    [i]”wrestling with how to respond to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, which directly violates federal drug law …”
    Change the federal drug law. De-list it. But the dispensaries, which would just become normal retail shops, create a public nuisance and are likely to spark (pun intended) zoning restrictions.

  3. Rifkin

    By the way … I don’t think the Democratic Party has been at all good on this issue. The Obama policy has been as bad as was his predecessor’s. However, this is yet another issue where the ideological intransigence of the Republican Party has worked to snuff out a common sense solution.

    The Republican right-wing (which is all that is left of the Republican Party) is rigidly anti-drugs. GOPers who take a more market-based approach with regard to the war on drugs have been driven into the irrelevant Libertarian Party ([url][/url]).

    A few intelligent conservative opinion-makers, like George Will, have called for an end to the endless war on drugs ([url][/url]). But the hard-right position is the mainstream Republican position on this issue. (Even hypocritical drug addicts like Rush Limbaugh ([url][/url]) are hard right on the war on drugs.)

    The result of that sort of intransigence is that there is no breathing room for common sense with people like Obama. If he or other Democrats takes a federalist stance — that is, let the states and cities deal with recreational drugs and medical marijuana — the right-wingers will attack him ceaselessly for being pro-pot, anti-children and a force for evil leading America down a wasted toxic path. With that force out there, it is simply easier for Democrats to do nothing, to never take a chance at making things more sensible.

    It’s not a perfect parallel, but I think this is sort of what has happened with regard to illegal immigration policy up to now. The Democrats have not fought hard to solve the problem (which should include a plan to legalize all the millions of workers in our country who are here legally and to create a better system by which guest workers in the future can come here under some sort of bonded-labor practice ([url][/url])), because the Republican anti-illegal immigrant ideology (in the main) has prohibited all compromise. Given the trouncing that Romney took (esp. in part because of Romney’s deportation ideas) and the fast-growing Latino vote (which will only harm the Republican hopes more in the next 5, 10 and 20 year) I fully expect the Republican Party to change its views on immigration policy. … I doubt, though, that it will soon make the same sensible about face on the war on drugs, even though a number of that war’s most ardent advocates are hypocrites like Limbaugh.

  4. Rifkin

    [i]”… should include a plan to legalize all the millions of workers in our country who are here [b]legally[/b] …”[/i]

    Make that “here illegally.”

    On that topic … we also need to make it much easier for tech and scientific companies to hire foreign engineers and scientists who want to come to the United States to work, including those who came to the U.S. for college or graduate school.

    There seems to be some idiotic notion embedded in our policy that there is a fixed limit on how many tech or science jobs we have, and if we let in more foreigners that will take opportunities away from American engineers and scientists. The reality is that all of us benefit from importing educated, intelligent people. Those immigrants not only make a good living here and pay taxes and so on. They very often will start new enterprises and create new jobs and new opportunities.

    Unfortunately, our system of allowing them to stay to work for a very short time, where they cannot leave their jobs to start new businesses without the risk of deportation, and our strictly limiting the number of these educated immigrants is costing our country greatly. These folks leave repressive and poor countries, like China and India and regions like the Middle East and black Africa, and instead of coming here are going to improve the lot of other Western countries which have rational immigration policies welcoming this talent pool.

  5. Mr Obvious

    Let me start by saying I am a true believer in medical marijuana as a main reliever and appetite inducer. I’ve seen marijuana work for cancer patients. Now onto my point.

    The ruse of medical marijuana is just as bad as prop 34. If I was one of the initial backers of prop 215 I would feel like I’d been taken advantage of. The industry of medical marijuana in California is a joke. It’s a for profit industry and Brown’s admitted inability to control the situation makes medical marijuana essentially legal for recreation use.

    Get in the Thrifty Nickel and you will find a “doctor” who will get you a recommendation without an in person visit. I know a person who was given a recommendation by a “doctor” for an affliction that is not recognized by source or doctor I’ve talked to.

    I’ve also seen the under cover videos where a “doctor” gave a recommendations to a person who said they had anxiety about an ingrown toenail. The “doctor” never looked at the toe or bothered to ask to treat the claimed issue.

    Or try this, next time you go to a work comp doctor ask for pot instead of pain pills. Not going to happen. The other thing to look at is what is the average age of people getting medical marijuana cards VS the average age of people being put on a maintenance schedule of pain pills. We have a bunch of 19 year old Cheech & Chong’s walking around because their wrist hurts from when they fell down.

    I think California should put it up to vote for recreational use. If it fails we fix the medical marijuana laws so only the people who need it get it. Either way we could get rid of these sham doctors. If the Vanguard wanted to be an investigative news source it could investigate the medical marijuana sham.

  6. medwoman

    Mr. Obvious

    “If it fails we fix the medical marijuana laws so only the people who need it get it. Either way we could get rid of these sham doctors”

    I agree with you that there are both doctors who prescribe medical marijuana appropriately, and those who make money running sham clinics.
    However, given that in all the time I have been in medicine, we have not gotten the problem of prescribing narcotics for bogus pain conditions under control, I would like to hear your specific suggestions for how to “fix the medical marijuana laws so that only the people who need it get it”.

  7. medwoman


    “But the dispensaries, which would just become normal retail shops, create a public nuisance and are likely to spark (pun intended) zoning restrictions.”

    I think that this is likely to be an overstated, or at most short term problem. Once fully legalized, I do not see the presence of a marijuana retailer as really any different from a specialty wine or beer shop . I haven’t heard that Vino has run into any special problems.

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