Sunday, December 21, 2014

US backs down from pot war

9/2/2013

We’re not high, but we do feel a little dazed and confused.

The United States’ never-ending “war on drugs” took a remarkable turn last week when the U.S. Justice Department announced it was downgrading its enforcement efforts relating to marijuana. The federal move is a breath of fresh air to pot enthusiasts in states where medical and recreational marijuana use have been legalized by state law.

We’re not high, but we do feel a little dazed and confused.

The United States’ never-ending “war on drugs” took a remarkable turn last week when the U.S. Justice Department announced it was downgrading its enforcement efforts relating to marijuana. The federal move is a breath of fresh air to pot enthusiasts in states where medical and recreational marijuana use have been legalized by state law.

But don’t inhale just yet.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday the Justice Department still will enforce marijuana laws associated with distribution to minors, situations when marijuana revenue is going to other criminal enterprises, trafficking across state lines and growing on public land, according to the Reuters news service. In other words, it’s not an all-out reefer free-for-all, but pot advocates still are chalking up the Justice Department message as a win.

“[Thursday’s] announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, said.

The Justice Department’s decision came as the result of Constitutional questions posed by Colorado’s and Washington’s new laws allowing recreational marijuana use. The Obama administration was faced with the choice of suing the states for violating the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 or respecting the states’ rights to govern themselves, particularly when backed by voters (as was the case in Colorado and Washington).

Loosening marijuana enforcement at the federal level also comes amid a growing number of states choosing to allow medicinal marijuana, as well as changing social mores related to use of the drug. In Washington, D.C., which along with about 20 states has decriminalized pot for the sick, even the government is getting its hands into the joint-rolling game. A new government proposal in the district would mandate that legal marijuana dispenseries set aside 2 percent of their profits to help subsidize pot purchases for poor patients, according to the Washington Times. (In Arizona, the government itself offers subsidies to low-income patients hoping to score legal marijuana.)

Subsidies for pot amid a so-called war on drugs? What are they smoking?

Aside from the obvious contradictions on marijuana, the Obama administration’s pot decision sparks even greater confusion when one ponders its sudden surrender on the states’ rights argument. Why do states have the right to supersede federal law when it comes to drug use, but not with other issues — like same-sex marriage, guns, immigration and abortion (which, like the marijuana-legalization ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington, have been backed by voters in various states)?

The answer is, of course, about ideology. The Obama administration supports states’ rights when it allows the president and his Justice Department to side with a culturally liberal topic, as opposed to those supported by conservative voter-driven efforts. Why the government moves toward decriminalizing pot while simultaneously working to criminalize cigarettes, sugary drinks and trans fats is another vexing question that can best be answered by looking at the president’s history of hypocritical rhetoric and authoritarian attempts at social engineering.

Still scratching your heads?

Just roll with it.

— Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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