Politics Blog

Legal marijuana wins a round, but is the fight over?

Advocates for marijuana legalization won a significant victory Thursday, Aug. 29 when the U.S.  Justice Department announced it would not intervene to stop Washington state and Colorado from opening state-sanctioned marijuana stores.

AP and McClatchy News Service accounts of the federal announcement both used the "green light" metaphor to characterize it.

But a close reading seems to indicate that the light is flashing yellow. (The light also remains bright red for the state's medical marijuana stores...see below.)

An excerpt from the McClatchy report, quoting the announcement from Deputy Attorney General James Cole:

“Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time.” (emphasis added.)

Key point number one: The feds are NOT recognizing the states' rights to override federal law. The states have no such right. Cole is, in fact, reasserting the FEDERAL RIGHT to enforce federal law when and if federal officials find it advisable to do so. 

Key point number two: The feds expect the states to police these new marijuana sales outlets rigorously. That means arrest and prosecution of people who violate the state's new rules and regulations on marijuana. The states' failure to do that to the feds' satisfaction will invite a new round of federal marijuana busts.

What do the feds expect the states to do? Here's another excerpt:

"The department said it expects the two states to prevent the distribution of pot to minors; to keep state-grown marijuana within their borders; and to prevent any revenue from going to criminal enterprises, such as gangs and cartels. The states also will be expected to crack down on drugged driving, prevent the growing of marijuana on public lands and ensure that marijuana is not allowed on federal property, among other concerns."

That's a pretty tall order. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorneys in Seattle and Spokane also made an announcement: They said the state's medical marijuana stores are "not tenable." 

Excerpt: "The continued operation and proliferation of unregulated, for-profit entities outside of the state's regulatory and licensing scheme is not tenable and violates both state and federal law," the nearly identical statements from the prosecutors said. "While our resources are limited, we will continue to enforce federal law in this arena."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided medical marijuana outlets in the Seattle area about a month ago.

I don't think we're going to be living in Woodstock Nation any time soon.