Let states legalise marijuana, Eric Holder: you know it makes sense
The US attorney general's review of federal policy on Colorado and Washington's new laws must respect voters' rational choice
Every once in a while, an opportunity arises to do the right thing, the common sense thing.
Right now, US Attorney General Eric Holder has such an opportunity. He is "reviewing" the federal government's options for dealing with the nettlesome fact that two US states have now enacted laws legalizing and regulating the personal use of marijuana.
Faced with a similar problem with those several states that have legalized medical marijuana use, Holder and the US attorneys in those states have essentially declared war on cannabis dispensers. They have gone so far as to deploy the heavy hand of the federal government to threaten landlords with seizure of property used for dispensaries operating in accordance with state and local laws. And all this is occurring despite President Obama having suggested the government has better things to do with its limited resources than prosecute medical marijuana businesses and users.
Now, Attorney General Holder – and ultimately, his boss, the president – have to come to grips with the reality of two states whose voters have decided that modern-day Prohibition should end. Interestingly, President Obama carried both Washington and Colorado on the same ballot on which the marijuana legalization measures appeared. That shouldn't matter, but …
As the attorney general maneuvers through this problem, it is important to remember why it is, in fact, a problem. Unlike the failed and ultimately rejected prohibition of alcohol in the last century, allowing states to permit the legal use of marijuana does not involve violating or repealing a constitutional amendment. The federal government has a problem simply because marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act – the same law that lets the government decide that one painkiller requires a prescription and another doesn't.
That simple classification, and the myriad state laws that have resulted from it, have turned millions of Americans into criminals and empowered murderous cartels – in the same way that Prohibition empowered Al Capone and an entire generation of organized crime. Voters in Washington and Colorado looked at those realities, and quite reasonably decided that the questionable benefits of treating marijuana use as a crime do not justify the considerable and unmistakable costs.
Those voters didn't stage a coup. They didn't defy the US Constitution. And they didn't incite a rebellion. Rather, they just made a perfectly rational policy decision.
Now, the Attorney General has an opportunity to do the same. Beyond the oft-stated arguments regarding whether marijuana use should be illegal, or legal and regulated like alcohol, the attorney general has the remarkably American option of invoking the notion of a limited central government and cutting the states of Washington and Colorado some slack to make their own decisions about what is, reasonably, a state issue.
I am among those who have called upon the Attorney General Holder and President Obama to remove cannabis from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. They have the authority to do so, and it just makes sense. In the meantime, I would argue they have the discretion to choose not to challenge the duly enacted laws of two states whose voters have made a reasoned decision about marijuana policy – a decision that in no way threatens any other states or the fed's precious authority.
I urge Attorney General Holder to do the right thing. Colorado and Washington have taken courageous steps to end another failed Prohibition. Holder doesn't have to like that decision; he just needs to stay out of the way.