Assume for a moment that California voters approve Proposition 19 on Nov. 2. The state will have just enacted a process for legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana use that no one else in the world has ever attempted. But Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s top law-enforcement officer, has said the administration will “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws in the country’s most populous state regardless of the vote. For all the trails that approving Prop 19 would blaze, much of its impact would depend on the extent to which Holder follows through on that threat.
Even if Californians vote next month to legalize marijuana, possession of the drug will still be a criminal offense under federal law, which trumps state law almost every time under the U.S. Constitution. But crackdowns on users and small-scale growers could decrease if Californians pass Proposition 19, the ballot measure proposing to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.