Drug Policy

The Cannabis Is Out of the Bag

Why prohibitionists have an interest in allowing marijuana legalization

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At the end of May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation aimed at taxing and regulating the commercial distribution of marijuana for recreational use. The legislative process had been haunted by the fear that the federal government would try to quash this momentous experiment in pharmacological tolerance—a fear magnified by the Obama administration's continuing silence on the subject.

More than half a year 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. 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. 

Washington's initiative, I-502, does not allow home cultivation. But University of California at Los Angeles drug policy expert Mark Kleiman, who is advising the Washington State 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.

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, administration and state officials 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." 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.  

NEXT: Citing George Zimmerman's Acquittal As a Reason to Repeal 'Stand Your Ground' Laws Is a Non Sequitur

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  1. “If the feds are smart….”

    Uh oh, there’s the rub.

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    2. up to I looked at the receipt which said $7068, I be certain that…my… father in law woz like realie receiving money in their spare time at there labtop.. there friends cousin has done this for only about seventeen months and just took care of the debts on their apartment and purchased themselves a Lotus Esprit. this is where I went,www.Rush60.??m

  2. I have a hard time imagining how they would be able to significantly curtail trafficking to other states without legal pot without essentially having border checks at the state line. Now to me, more trafficking from states where it is legal sounds like a good thing. But it gives me some concern about the ability to drive from state to state without being hassled.

    1. The hassle should apply only if you are driving out of Washington or Colorado.

      You always get hassled driving into California. “G’morning! Bringin’ in any fresh fruit?”

      1. driving out of Washington or Colorado

        That doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

      2. Yeah, I’m looking forward to my occasional commutes from Colorado to Denver.

        Also:

        http://www.aspentimes.com/news…..pplication

  3. 420BlazeItFaggot!

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  4. Just gotta mention:
    Whatever that is being smoked (?) in the image don’t look like any blunt I ever rolled.

  5. “…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.”

    Hard to identify? Not really. Between the federal monitoring of all phone and email communication, plus local cops equipped with infrared cameras to peer into houses from the street and identify any brighter-than-average lights, plus the new generation of smart electric meters that can pinpoint unusual power demands, it shouldn’t be hard at all to bring those “evildoers” to justice. Gotta keep up demand for the prison industry’s services, you know.

    1. local cops equipped with infrared cameras to peer into houses from the street and identify any brighter-than-average lights

      LOL. There are ways around this. It’s an arms race, of sorts.

      Fuck any cop except ones like the VA Highway Patrol officer who, instead of arresting me for possession at the age of 17, dumped the baggie out on the interstate median and called my parents to come pick me up. That guy probably saved me from a life of shitty jobs and/or criminal activity due to bullshit laws.

  6. The Feds don’t need the manpower to do it alone. All Congress has to do is tie Federal dollars to marijuana prohibition.

    Which I’m sure they’ve already thought of.

    1. Common sense legislation to protect our kidz from the wacky weed. They’ll trot out a bunch of sobby moms who “lost” their (25 year old) children to “marijuana abuse” (and harder drugs, depression and stupidity).

  7. That’s assuming the feds do not go on a senseless rampage through these laboratories of democracy.

    Which is assuming a lot.

    1. It’s basically assuming that the feds will not do what they are best at and known for.

  8. “The feds, who account for only 1 percent of marijuana arrests, simply do not have the manpower to go after all those growers.”

    This isn’t entirely true. Many people arrested for marijuana violations are subsumed within larger indictments alleging RICO violations.

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  10. smuggling of newly legal marijuana to jurisdictions that continue

  11. voters in Colorado and Washington made history

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