Marijuana

Federal Officials, Drug Warriors, Struggle To Adjust as Popular Opinion on Marijuana Leaves Them Behind

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Reason 24/7
Reason

It's no secret that public sentiment in the United States has moved a long way on marijuana. Polls now find that half or more of the population supports outright legalization of the stuff. That shift on a major public policy issue catches many government officials, especially at the federal level, flatfooted. Having built careers around the idea that it's a swell idea to arrest, imprison and brutalize people for ingesting the "wrong" intoxicant, they find themselves unable to catch up with changing times as much of the country turns its back on their drug-warrior ways.

From Boston.com/AP:

It took 50 years for American attitudes about marijuana to zigzag from the paranoia of "Reefer Madness" to the excesses of Woodstock back to the hard line of "Just Say No."

The next 25 years took the nation from Bill Clinton, who famously "didn't inhale," to Barack Obama, who most emphatically did.

And now, in just a few short years, public opinion has moved so dramatically toward general acceptance that even those who champion legalization are surprised at how quickly attitudes are changing and states are moving to approve the drug — for medical use and just for fun. …

Washington policymakers seem reluctant to deal with any of it. …

The overarching question has big national implications. How do you do all of this without inviting the wrath of the federal government, which has been largely silent so far on how it will respond to a gaping conflict between U.S. and state law?

The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November's election and repeatedly has promised to respond soon. But seven months later, states still are on their own, left to parse every passing comment from the department and President Obama.

In December, Obama said in an interview that "it does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal."

In April, Attorney General Eric Holder said to Congress, "We are certainly going to enforce federal law. … When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children." He also mentioned violence related to drug trafficking and organized crime.

The article notes that supporters of legalization "range from libertarians who oppose much government intervention to people who want to see an activist government aggressively regulate marijuana production and sales," so the ultimate shape of legalization is uncertain, other than the fact that much of the population is done with marijuana prohibition. That's natural for evolving policy, especially with regard to an established industry that's accustomed to operating in the black market and can remain there if rules for legal operation are too restrictive.

The incoherent and contradictory quotes from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are representative of a drug warrior establishment which also includes researchers who insist that questions of personal liberty should be subject to "science" and drug cop careerists who seem poised to continue arresting people in defiance of state-level legalization.

Once again, enforcing new restrictions on people's behavior seems to come naturally to the political class and its enablers, but backing off control and letting people choose evokes anguish and panic. But back off they must, as public opinion changes.

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  1. The incoherent and contradictory quotes from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder …

    Well, Holder invoked “the children”, so he wins this round.

  2. some days here, it’s like a tennis match going back and forth between the articles on pot and the ones on gay marriage.

    1. Now see, this is where the blog-and-comment format is so artificial and distracting vs. the sort of discussion that used to take place on Libernet-d.

    2. Didn’t you get any strawberries?

  3. marijuana? is that stuff still illegal?

  4. It’s certainly possible that in the current environment, some “rogue” midlevel federal prosecutor can do what’s often done in California and arrest and prosecute selected individuals in states where pot is either legal or allowed for medical purposes. This can continue as long as the administration doesn’t make a decision, and can be used to “punish” enemies both political and otherwise by selective prosecution.

    We are a screwed up country, no longer governed by the rule of law!

  5. “The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November’s election and repeatedly has promised to respond soon. But seven months later, states still are on their own, left to parse every passing comment from the department and President Obama.”

    Is anyone surprised by this?

    The perpetual campaign of the Obama Administration made it obvious that there would not be an announcement on the Marijuana issue until at least July 2014 and possibly not until sometime after the November elections.

    The issue will be used in such a way that they determine most helps their electoral chances in retaining control of the Senate

  6. He also mentioned violence related to drug trafficking and organized crime

    You mean the violence and organized crime that is a direct result of prohibition?

    1. +1 pig rent-seeker

  7. “range from libertarians who oppose much government intervention to people who want to see an activist government aggressively regulate marijuana production and sales

    I see weed trucks on the horizon.

  8. I literally cannot fathom the mental contortions someone must maintain to believe prohibition ought to continue. In all likelihood I’m sure a large portion of prohibitionists know it doesn’t work and ruins lives, but they get the get to be part of the thuggary and cash their checks so they don’t care.

  9. I know people don’t like to apply simplistic “litmus tests,” but I think the War on Drugs provides one of the few opportunities to do just that. Prohibition II has been disastrous for liberty on many levels for decades. Just ending that policy would go a LONG way to stopping abuses of the Constitution (and the citizenry), ending the waste of tax dollars, and increasing general liberty in this country. So, in 2014, when the ENTIRE House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate are up for re-election, make sure you vote ONLY for candidates who have pledged to end the War on Drugs during their first/next term in office. Regardless of how long they have served or how much you like them, DON’T elect or re-elect any federal politicians who want to continue the War on Drugs or won’t make its end a high priority. The people can end this “war,” but only if we concentrate our power and do not let ourselves become distracted from this vitally important goal. Register your opinion in the poll that REALLY counts: November 2014.

  10. Stop the Federal Drug Lord Subsidy Program!

    During alcohol prohibition (1919-1933), all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. While battling over turf, young men died on inner-city streets. Corruption in Law Enforcement and the Judiciary went clean off the scale. A fortune was wasted on enforcement that could have been far more wisely allocated. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs, billions in taxes were lost. Finally, in 1929, the economy collapsed. Does that sound familiar?

  11. It took 50 years for American attitudes about marijuana to zigzag from the paranoia of ”Reefer Madness” to the excesses of Woodstock back to the hard line of ”Just Say No.”.What should the American do in the future?

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