Two states legalize marijuana; federal law clashes

Saying last week that “the dye for major cannabis law reforms is now cast” and that “the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is before us all,” the executive director of a marijuana reform group applauded voters in Colorado and Washington for making their states the first ever to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Allen St. Pierre of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — was jubilant the morning after election day.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was a bit more tempered in his speech. Although Hickenlooper said that, “The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” he also noted that “federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug.”

That dichotomy makes things a bit uncertain and problematic. In the immediate wake of the historic vote, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement calling marijuana a controlled substance and saying that “enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”

How will it all work out? Will federal and state officials clash? Will the matter end up in the courts? In California, where — along with 16 other states — medical marijuana is legal, there has been substantial and ongoing federal interference with state residents acting legally under California law.

Indictments have been issued in a number of cases, and drug trafficking charges have been brought against persons operating medical marijuana stores under state license.

NORML says that legalizing marijuana across the country would save taxpayers about $10 billion annually on enforcement costs. Additionally, the staggeringly large amounts of time and money spent on prosecuting minor drug offenses would be recouped. Further still, as many as 750,000 people annually would no longer be arrested for possessing a drug that NORML says is “far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.”

Source: CNN, “2 states legalize pot, but don’t ‘break out the Cheetos’ yet,” Alan Duke, Nov. 7, 2012