A Washington Post editorial describes "a few options" for the Obama administration as it settles on a response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington:
It could enhance its own anti-marijuana enforcement in the states. It could sue to halt the laws' application.
Or the Justice Department could keep its hands off, perhaps continuing the approach the feds have largely taken for some time—focusing scarce resources on major violators, such as big growers that might serve multi-state markets, cultivators using public lands or dispensaries near schools. The last option is clearly best.
The Post takes liberties with English by describing the raids and threats that have put hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in California and Colorado out of business as a "hands off" approach, and it gives cannabiphobic U.S. attorneys too much credit by suggesting they are "focusing scarce resources" on major threats to public order (such as The Grasshopper?). But the Post is right about two things: 1) The feds, who account for about 1 percent of pot busts, cannot enforce marijuana prohibition on their own, and 2) if they merely maintain something like their current level of harassment vis-à-vis pot growers and retailers, it won't be enough to eliminate the newly legal business. In the meantime, says the Post, we might just learn a thing or two:
It's not yet clear how a quasi-legal pot industry might operate in Colorado and Washington or what its public-health effects will be. It could be that these states are harbingers of a slow, national reassessment of marijuana policy. Or their experiment could serve as warning for the other 48 states.
What's that called again, when states experiment with different policies and learn from each other's examples? Never mind, because the Post does not want to formally acknowledge such an arrangement. It warns that repealing federal prohibition and letting states go their own way "could have a range of effects on the U.S. relationship with Mexico that lawmakers should take time to consider fully." Such as weakening the murderous cartels that profit from the arbitrary distinctions drawn by our country's drug laws? Yeah, Mexico would hate that.
The Post does endorse "decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot, assessing civil fines instead of locking people up," which was a cutting-edge reform in 1972, when the Nixon-appointed National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse recommended it; in 1973, when Oregon became the first of a dozen or so states to do it; and maybe even in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter endorsed it at the federal level (a mainly symbolic step, since the feds almost never handle cases involving small amounts of pot). What about commercial cultivation and sale, as planned in Colorado and Washington? Although the Justice Department "does not need to stage an aggressive intervention," the Post says, "it can wait, watch and enforce the most worrisome violations as they occur." If we're lucky, that will turn out to be just as meaningless as it sounds.