The Cannabis Is Out of the Bag

Why prohibitionists have an interest in allowing marijuana legalization

This week the Colorado General Assembly put the finishing touches on legislation aimed at taxing and regulating the commercial distribution of marijuana for recreational use. The process has been haunted by the fear that the federal government will try to quash this momentous experiment in pharmacological tolerance—a fear magnified by the Obama administration's continuing silence on the subject.

Six months after voters in Colorado and Washington made history by voting to legalize marijuana, Attorney General Eric Holder still has not said how the Justice Department plans to respond. But if the feds are smart, they will not just refrain from interfering; they will work together with state officials to minimize smuggling of newly legal marijuana to jurisdictions that continue to treat it as contraband. A federal crackdown can only make the situation worse—for prohibitionists as well as consumers.

Shutting down state-licensed pot stores probably would not be very hard. A few well-placed letters threatening forfeiture and prosecution would do the trick for all but the bravest cannabis entrepreneurs. But what then?

Under Amendment 64, the Colorado initiative, people 21 or older already are allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, grow up to six plants for personal use, and keep the produce of those plants (potentially a lot more than an ounce) on the premises where they are grown. It is also legal to transfer up to an ounce "without remuneration" and to "assist" others in growing and consuming marijuana.

Put those provisions together, and you have permission for various cooperative arrangements that can serve as alternative sources of marijuana should the feds stop pot stores from operating. The Denver Post reports that "an untold number" of cannabis collectives have formed in Colorado since Amendment 64 passed.

Washington's initiative, I-502, does not allow home cultivation. But UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman, who is advising the Washington Liquor Control Board on how to regulate the cannabis industry, argues that collectives ostensibly organized to serve patients under that state's medical marijuana law could fill the supply gap if pot stores never open. It is also possible that Washington's legislature would respond to federal meddling by letting people grow marijuana for personal use, because otherwise there would be no legal source.

With pot shops offering a decent selection at reasonable prices, these alternative suppliers will account for a tiny share of the marijuana market, just as home brewing accounts for a tiny share of the beer market. But if federal drug warriors prevent those stores from operating, they will be confronted by myriad unregulated, small-scale growers, who will be a lot harder to identify, let alone control, than a few highly visible, state-licensed businesses.

The feds, who account for only 1 percent of marijuana arrests, simply do not have the manpower to go after all those growers. Nor do they have the constitutional authority to demand assistance from state and local law enforcement agencies that no longer treat pot growing as a crime.

Given this reality, legal analyst Stuart Taylor argues in a recent Brookings Institution paper, the Obama administration and officials in Colorado and Washington should "hammer out clear, contractual cooperation agreements so that state-regulated marijuana businesses will know what they can and cannot safely do." Such enforcement agreements, which are authorized by the Controlled Substances Act, would provide more security than a mere policy statement, although less than congressional legislation.

Taylor, who says he has no firm views on the merits of legalization, warns that "a federal crackdown would backfire by producing an atomized, anarchic, state-legalized but unregulated marijuana market that federal drug enforcers could neither contain nor force the states to contain." Noting recent polls finding that 50 percent or more of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, he says the public debate over that issue would benefit from evidence generated by the experiments in Colorado and Washington. That's assuming the feds do not go on a senseless rampage through these laboratories of democracy.

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  • UnCivilServant||

    It costs more to jail a pot head than to have one sleep on your couch. Even those who become completely useless to society through overuse (an insignificant proportion of all users) they're essentially harmless and my tax dollars shouldn't be wasted on persecuting them.

  • semout16||

    up to I looked at the bank draft that said $5552, I be certain that my mom in-law truley making money parttime at there labtop.. there brothers friend has been doing this 4 only about 17 months and just now paid for the morgage on there mini mansion and got a great Volkswagen Golf GTI. read more at wow65.com
    (Go to site and open "Home" for details)

  • SIV||

    Tell those Chinamen its even funnier when the bear is wearing a tutu

  • Ted S.||

    Oh dear; you're intruding on Sarca Smic's territory.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Hmmmm monkey.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The process has been haunted by the fear that the federal government will try to quash this momentous experiment in pharmacological tolerance...

    Not just federal law enforcement. Colorado legislators seemed to be doing a good job trying to chip away at the state's new found tolerance.

  • deified||

    This article is good as far as it goes but I suspect that space limitations caused Sullum to leave out some important points.

    Here are two important points that I think deserved inclusion.

    Part of federal policy will probably emanate from certain, effectively autonomous regions of the federal government. If the U.S. Attorneys in CO or WA decide to send legal nastygrams to landlords and such, will President Obama risk political capital for a bunch of dopeheads and their federally criminal enablers?

    Analogously, how much slush money is available in the DEA budget for use by the administrator? If someone with the mindset of a Michelle Leonhart or a Karen Tandy - e.g. a True Believer/petty autocrat -- decided to "go rogue" and raid some cannabis entrepreneurs pour encourager les autres, would the President be able or inclined to discipline his own bureaucrats?

    The real vanguard of experimentation continues to be Cali where weed is legal in all but name-- in many jurisdictions. This quilt of regulations, this "federalism in one state," is going through the growing pains of legalization with considerably more "Wild West" and less bureaucracy. Despite the unfairness of the overall scheme, California seems to be generating the most data regarding legalization consequences.

  • deified||

    Finally: Prohibitionists and legalizers alike are probably on a deadline. It's very likely that the next President will not be a Democrat. Getting a de facto regime up and running by January 2017 is the name of the game-- in WA/CO; in the Wild West (OR/CA); and in AK/MA (Outliers).

    [Note to H&R: Increase your character limit to at least 2000 or this comments section will turn into a YouTube Idiocracy. You have been warned.]

  • SIV||

    " Not Obama's Fault. He's So Choomy"

  • Almanian!||

    But Brawndo has what plants crave. it has electrolytes...

  • $park¥||

    Note to H&R: Increase your character limit to at least 2000 or this comments section will turn into a YouTube Idiocracy. You have been warned.

    Not everyone has the need to write, or desire to read, a comment that drones on forever. A better solution would be to figure out what you need to say in a more succinct manner.

  • deified||

    Listen, dipshit, it's pretty clear you don't RTFA and just spout random clichés up in this bitch. Some of us prefer to engage the actual merits of the argument. Crazy, I know.

  • $park¥||

    You want more space? Get your own blog. Or petition reason to grant you column space. Literally thousands of comments every day manage to be short and to the point and topical.

  • Almanian!||

    I occurs to me upon reading all this that it is now galactically easier for me to acquire even a quarter pound of pot than to get one 50-round box of 9mm ammunution for the trusty Glock.

    Hmmm....curious.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    OT: From 2001-2009, the media would report every time Cindy Sheehan took a shit. Now, you'll have to dig deep in Section B of the paper to learn of this woman.

    Funny, that.

  • wareagle||

    Sheehan's disappearance is a microcosm of the entire anti-war left's hiatus ever since The Obama's election. No one gives a shit about some guy killed in Benghazi because that attack was orchestrated by rethuglicans out to get the black man. You know that.

  • Virginian||

    To be fair, I have heard Sheehan is still protesting the wars. She just gets no attention because they're now she is an inconvenience.

  • ||

    Yeah she's still out there and ran against Obama as a VP for the Greens I think. Whatever you think of her she's not part of the disappearing act.

  • Rich||

    That's assuming the feds do not go on a senseless "common-sense" rampage through these laboratories of democracy.

    FTFY 8-(

  • sarcasmic||

    I really wish someone would speak up whenever these law enforcement types say marijuana should remain illegal because it is a gateway drug, and ask how it possibly be a gateway drug if it was legal. Alcohol retailers don't offer samples of crack cocaine, nor will they refer you to someone who might have heroin for sale. Retailers of legal marijuana would be no different.

  • SugarFree||

    I think everyone in the prohibition industry (including reporters who increasingly rely on OMG THIS WILL KILL YOU!!!!1! stories for eyeballs) is uninterested in debunking the thoroughly stupid gateway argument. It lurks behind almost all moral panics. It's how you smear the members of a large group for the actions of a few.

    Being a redneck is a gateway for owning guns! Owning guns is a gateway for shooting up a school! Therefore, ban rednecks!

    Everything you've ever done in your entire life is a "gateway" action for everything else that happens to you for the rest of you life from this point on. The idea that you used heroin because you tried pot a few years before is as relevant as saying you used heroin because you sharpened a pencil in 2nd grade.

  • $park¥||

    If they had allowed pens in second grade, my life wouldn't be the shambles it is today. *cry*

  • sarcasmic||

    People in the prohibition industry don't care. They'll lie and cheat to keep the stuff illegal because it is in their self interest. However there are a lot of people who buy into the "gateway drug" argument only because they haven't given it any thought. They know that marijuana is relatively benign, yet it's gateway to other drugs so it should be illegal. They never stop to ask if it would still be a gateway if it was not illegal.

  • $park¥||

    It's basic rationalization. They have decided something is bad, from there they need to determine why. One reason is as good as another and the gateway argument seems to have stuck on the wall.

  • $park¥||

    They never stop to ask if it would still be a gateway if it was not illegal.

    That's also like saying that drugs are a black market and would continue to be a black market if legalized.

  • Mock-star||

    Which actually happens if a substance is overly regulated or taxed. See Russian vodka disguised as windshield wiper fluid.

    Take note Colorado.

  • Rich||

    Another aspect of the "gateway" mentality is that people are mindless thrill-seekers. "Once you've altered your consciousness at all, you must keep increasing the, um, the intensity of the, um, unreality, or you will die!"

    Sleep -- There's your *real* gateway drug.

  • Mainer2||

    George Carlin said it decades ago. Mother's milk leads to heroin.

  • ||

    It's discussions like these that give me the feeling libertarians really do live up to the stereotype and aren't actually principled freedom-fighters, but just like smoking pot. What if it was a gateway drug? So what? Concede that argument - it's irrelevant to the moral premise of self-ownership and the over criminalization of behavior rather than legitimate violations of others' rights. Remember, you ostensibly support legalizing "hard" drugs too. You don't have to rely on weak rationalizations that drugs are harmless to support their legalization anymore than you have to paper over the negative consequences of alcoholism to support keeping it legal.

  • Mainer2||

    You know what works sometimes, with people who really haven't given the issue much thought. I tell them the question isn't, is marijuana bad. The real issue: is prohibition good ? That can sometimes break the mental logjam and get a dialogue going.

  • exchef100||

    Can't wait to see the revenue inflows and prosecution/imprisonment savings reported by CO and WA related to legalization. I have a feeling that other states will quickly follow, if only to plug budget gaps.

  • RobertWoods||

    what Dennis responded I didn't even know that a stay at home mom can make $7046 in one month on the internet. have you seen this link...
    www.up444.com

  • Acosmist||

    Voters did not legalize anything. They decided to treat pot like alcohol - a highly regulated substance in our country.

  • ||

    Regulated != illegal. Regulation is bad, but on the scale of bad things, prohibition is worse than regulation.

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