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