In an effort to ensure new voter-approved amendments that legalize limited use of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington are not overrun by the federal government, Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette introduced bipartisan legislation that aims to curtail such a scenario. "My constituents have spoken, and I don't want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens."
In three states — Washington, Colorado, and Massachusetts — efforts to liberalize marijuana laws succeeded last night. In Washington and Colorado, the new laws enacted go even further than past efforts. In these two states, fully regulated recreational pot use has now been approved by voters. Maybe these victories shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, in 2011 Gallup found that a plurality of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, and in 2010 fully 70% of Americans supported using marijuana to alleviate pain and suffering. What does all this mean for the four-decade-old War on Drugs?
The election results this week from Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and Arkansas demonstrate that public opinion about cannabis has moved much faster than the positions of elected officials. Despite what the voters in Washington and Colorado did, growing and selling marijuana will remain federal felonies. The federal reaction is crucial, and at the moment unpredictable. We probably won’t know until a new attorney general takes office.
The battle over the legal recreational use of marijuana heads to several more states, as officials in Colorado and Washington wait to see how the federal government will react to their new pro-pot laws. Rhode Island and Maine seem to be the next states where pro-marijuana forces will seek referendums about the legalization of recreational use. Lawmakers in both states plan to introduce bills, modeled on the laws in Colorado and Washington, to seek the legal recreational use of marijuana.
Voters approved Amendment 64 legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado on Tuesday, making this one of two states to end prohibition of the drug but also raising new legal questions and setting up potential court battles. Among the opponents was Gov. John Hickenlooper, who said that "the voters have spoken and we have to respect their will. This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly."
Colorado and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use in defiance of federal law, setting the stage for a possible showdown with the Obama administration. Another ballot measure to remove criminal penalties for personal possession and cultivation of recreational cannabis was defeated in Oregon. The Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group that backed the initiatives, said the outcome in Washington and Colorado reflected growing national support for liberalized pot laws.
The 6 November votes in Colorado and Washington left a lot of marijuana users happy and a lot of police officers nervous. And they set the two states up for a confrontation with the federal government, as marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the US. Legalisation advocates say the recent votes mark the beginning of the end of the drug's prohibition. "It's a tipping point for sure," says Sanho Tree, director of the drug policy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Now that the voters in Colorado and Washington have approved marijuana legalization initiatives, attention has turned quickly to questions surrounding implementation—and in particular to speculation over how the federal government might react. This is entirely understandable, since it is no secret that the newly approved state initiatives conflict with federal law.
Colorado officials and marijuana advocates on Wednesday looked toward an imminent confrontation with the federal government one day after voters in the state endorsed a measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he is trying to speak soon with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to learn how the Justice Department will respond to the legalization measure's passage. (See also: Colorado attorney general Suthers says he will respect marijuana measure)
No sooner had the voters of Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalise marijuana than the predictions began: visions – both overexcited and apocalyptic – of busloads of stoned tourists turning the states into Rocky mountain or Pacific north-west versions of Amsterdam. However such speculation may be premature. There are a few more hurdles before legally buying and selling marijuana in the US can become reality.
Colorado marijuana activists, empowered after backing a successful legalization effort in the state, are in the midst of a dialogue about how far to press their success. At a recent forum, advocates talked about whether the movement should continue to step lightly in Colorado politics — being accommodating toward law enforcement and welcoming of strict regulations — or act like a political powerhouse.
The Washington Post’s View: we favor decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot, assessing civil fines instead of locking people up. Also, for that reason and others, the Justice Department should hold its fire on a lawsuit challenging Colorado and Washington’s decision to behave more leniently.
The legalisation of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, which will allow the drug to be taxed and regulated, in two U.S. states will prompt debate on anti-drug policies in Mexico as well, and on the coordination of strategies between the two countries, experts say. “The least bad option is legalisation,” Jorge Chabat, at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), told IPS. “It will have an impact on the way prohibition is designed, because there will be a cascade effect, and we’ll see changes very soon.”
Last week was a momentous week, the beginning of the end, perhaps, of a national depravity – the "war on drugs". The voters of Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalise marijuana, amounting to local shifts, for the moment. So we shouldn't delude ourselves that the country will be transformed overnight, but the public thinking, the public spirit is being transformed. Finally, there is a growing realisation that this "war" has produced nothing but a legacy of failure. And who wants to be associated with failure?