As someone who recently moved to the Bay Area, it's still a bit strange just how often a giant waft of pot smoke floats my way. Monday morning or Saturday night, walking through a park or standing downtown on Market Street, any time and any place, apparently, is a good time to light one up.
With a total of 17 states, plus D.C., currently permitting medical marijuana programs (and seven other states presently considering such a move), the push toward all-out legalization would still appear to be a bit far off. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State, however, are looking to speed things up with the legalization of recreational marijuana use being put to a vote this November.
If approved, these measures would allow anyone 21 and over to purchase marijuana in limited quantities at stores regulated by local governments. Obviously the adoption of such resolutions would directly, and rather brazenly, conflict with federal regulations. Federal law obviously still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, something states with medical marijuana programs know all too well.
Oakland, for instance, is embattled in a legal scuffle with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and San Francisco U.S. Attorney Melissa Haag, as a result of the Justice Department's civil forfeiture claim against the city's biggest, most profitable marijuana dispensary. Similarly, this past August, the Justice Department sent letters to several dispensaries in Colorado demanding they cease operation or face property seizure.
What's most interesting about upcoming ballots in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington is that so far the Justice Department has said nothing about the matter. Despite pleas from nine former DEA administrators and a letter to President Obama from four ex-White House drug czars, the only statement issued from the Justice Department simply declared that they would not “speculate on the outcome of various ballot initiatives state by state." A press conference is scheduled Monday to draw more attention to the issue and to prod Holder to say something.
California, whose program initially began in 1996 with Prop 215 (further fleshed out by a bill accurately called SB 420), has thus far failed to pass a measure comparable to the ones proposed by Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. It seems likely, though, that at least one of the bills will pass. According to the most recent polls, Colorado's bill looks likely to pass (with 51% in favor, 38% opposed, and 11% undecided), as does Washington's. Oregon, on the other hand, is more solidly in the air, with a decent chunk of voters undecided.
While I personally support these measures (for a variety of reasons that have already been covered, some of them recently on PolicyMic), I will be more curious to see how the federal government responds if and when these states vote to legalize. Despite the fact that the Justice Department has pursued some medical marijuana dispensaries (as noted above), there are obviously a lot of businesses still in operation.
Marijuana as a semi-legitimate business is booming, with or without federal threats. Where I live, for instance, there are ads in local entertainment newspapers advertising "420 Doctors." These people have office buildings, and though they operate at a risk, they are still doing so out in the open. The introduction of more brazen state law and assertion of states' rights, then, may ultimately prove the efforts of the Justice Department even more futile. Not, one might argue, unlike the war on drugs itself.