President Obama’s Marijuana Problem

April 22, 2010 – NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Now that an initiative to legalize marijuana is officially on the California ballot this November, President Obama should brace for a strong jolt from the west.

If the measure passes (the latest poll puts support at 56 percent), no longer will it be a crime under state law for an adult to cultivate, possess or transport a personal supply of pot. Moreover, cities and counties will be authorized to regulate and tax commercial production, distribution and sale of marijuana, subject to restrictions and protections for minors and public safety. Revenue raised by marijuana sales would go to local governments, not Sacramento. Initiatives are also in the works in Washington and Oregon.

The president’s dilemma, in confronting state repeal of prohibition, lies in that marijuana will remain prohibited under federal law. It’s not the first time something like this has happened.

In 1923, during the prohibition whose era now
gets a capital P, New York repealed its alcohol-prohibition laws, shifting the burden and expense of enforcement onto federal authorities. Not only did the state gain significant savings in law- enforcement costs, but perhaps as a consequence, for the remaining 10 years of Prohibition New York City escaped the level of crime and violence that plagued some other large cities, such as Chicago and Detroit. It also explains why, in movies of the era, police are often called the “Feds.”

If California voters see marijuana prohibition as unsustainable and vote accordingly, howls will arise, most audibly from politicized public employees who see their jobs at risk. There will be the usual bleating about “sending the wrong message” to children, as if criminal-justice policy should be based on how it might be misconstrued by the immature. Moralists will sputter. Congress will bluster. It will be a splendid kerfuffle.

Faced with no local marijuana enforcement, the president’s choices are limited. He could send in armies of federal agents to patrol the streets and surveil backyards and basements. In no time, surely, the corridors of federal courthouses would fill with sad-eyed teenagers and small-time pot dealers, and already overburdened judges will roar.

Another option may be to retreat, as with medical marijuana, ordering federal police to ignore conduct that is in compliance with state law, including licensed and regulated farms, plants and shops. However, this restraint conflicts with the president’s constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” notwithstanding the stated reason for not interfering with medical marijuana was that the Feds simply do not have the resources.

The president’s best option is the last resort of scoundrels and statesmen alike: to tell the truth. He can remind the nation that marijuana was outlawed early in the last century to oppress minorities, and, shamefully, its prohibition continues to serve that function. He can deplore how the government uses the marijuana laws to insinuate itself into the personal lives of Americans, leaving millions with stained records that rule out good jobs and even an education. He can lament how it is really marijuana prohibition that “sends the wrong message” to children, by conflating the concepts of use and abuse, undermining honest drug education.

He could condemn the utter hypocrisy of outlawing marijuana, which has never killed anyone, while we regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco, both deadly, and celebrate drink as an integral part of many social rituals.

He could admit the obvious fact that marijuana has become an inextricable part of our culture, despite decades of anti-drug propaganda. He could challenge the defenders of prohibition to tell us how many more people will have to be arrested, prosecuted and punished before marijuana is extirpated from our land, and how much that will cost, and where the money will come from to pay for it.

On June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and exhorted Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” November may well deliver an exhortation from the voters of California to tear down the wall of marijuana prohibition.

Might this be Obama’s Gorbachevian moment?  By RICHARD M. EVANS.  Source.

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