Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday, but came away no further enlightened about how the federal government will respond to last fall's votes in Washington and Colorado that set up legal markets for marijuana. Ferguson said his message to the Justice Department was that the state hopes to avoid a legal fight, but that his office has a team of lawyers preparing just in case.
While it seems unlikely that the federal government will make much of an effort to arrest pot users in Colorado or Washington—Obama has said he has “bigger fish to fry”— the tension between federal and state laws on marijuana remains. Just last week, an appeals court rejected a suit that sought to lower the classification of medical marijuana under federal drug laws. Justice Louis Brandeis once said that the states should function as “laboratories,” testing new ideas for possible adoption by the whole nation.
The cry of "states' rights" is not often associated with progressive causes, but with the "war on drugs" comprehensively declared a $1tn failure by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the call has reason and justice on its side. Will the feds carry their fight against the voices expressing popular will from California to Colorado, Washington State and beyond? Or will the White House temper its approach with respect for local democracy?
The success of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington has sparked a new conversation in a nation that is one of the world's top marijuana growers: Should Mexico, which has suffered mightily in its war against the deadly drug cartels, follow the Western states' lead? Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto,opposes legalization, but he also told CNN that the news from Washington and Colorado "could bring us to rethinking the strategy."
Vigorous regulation of a thriving medical-marijuana industry in Colorado offers the best glimpse of what is coming to Washington when it launches its voter-approved social-use market. With continuous surveillance, bar-coded plants and strict financial background checks, Colorado's rules allowed capitalism to be unleased, creating an instant $200 million industry. With retail prices — averagingabout $7.50 a gram — among the cheapest in the country.
Leaders from across Latin America responded within days of the Colorado and Washington vote, demanding a review of drug-war policies that have mired the region in violence. Latin American decisionmakers are now openly questioning why they should continue to sacrifice police and soldiers to enforce drug laws when legal markets for marijuana now exist in the U.S.
Officials tasked with creating a regulated marijuana system in Washington state said they are moving forward with a timeline of issuing producer licenses by August 2013, but said that several challenges and uncertainties still exist surrounding the new law. (See also: Eager marijuana entrepreneurs are in for a long regulatory trip)
The biggest immediate threat to legalization in Washington and Colorado is the federal government, but even the feds might be hard-pressed to stomp out reform. But before marijuana legalization spreads from Washington and Colorado to other states, it will have to get past a group of hardened drug warriors, many of whom have developed a personal interest in maintaining prohibition. While most of these ideologues lack the authority to actually change laws, their larger purpose is to maintain the marijuana propaganda machine and push back against pro-legalization rhetoric. Here are the top five people.
The Washington state Liquor Control Board (LCB), charged with launching the world's first regulated marijuana market for social use, expects to begin accepting applications for grower licenses April 17, with the first licenses to be issued in May 2013. State-licensed marijuana stores won't open until at least December, after marijuana-processor and retail licenses are issued. But several groups already have hired veteran lobbyists to influence the LCB, with business interests keenly aware of the potential.
Hawaii could join Colorado and Washington as states that have legalized the use of marijuana by adults, under a measure introduced by state House Speaker Joe Souki. House Bill 150, known as the Personal Use of Marijuana Act, would allow adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to cultivate a limited number of marijuana plants in a secure and locked location. It also would allow for licensed and regulated marijuana retail stores, as well as licensed facilities to cultivate, manufacture and test marijuana. (Related story: Hawaii residents support legalizing marijuana, survey finds)
Washington State officials are looking to build a strictly regulated marijuana system that could forestall federal concerns about how the drug will be handled once it’s available for public purchase. Rick Garza of the Liquor Control Board said he expects the federal government will try to take action if Washington’s system has loose controls. He said it’s important for Washington to have a strong regulatory structure, such as how participants in the system are licensed and how the product is handled from growth to the point of sale.