According to a nationwide poll commissioned by The Washington Post and ABC News in November 2012, a majority of Americans age 65 and under favor legalizing the personal possession of small amounts of marijuana. Polls by Gallup and others have reported even greater public support for legalization (59% approval in an October 2012 national poll). Commenting on the poll results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano stated that “…overall public support for ending cannabis prohibition will only grow greater in the years ahead…and political officials who continue to support the criminalization of cannabis and cannabis consumers are, in the not so distant future, going to find themselves on the wrong side of history.”
In deciding how to handle the conflict between state and federal law, an inter-agency task force (including the Justice Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, State Department, White House Counsel and the director of National Drug Control Policy) is considering its options. Here’s some of them:
1. Federal prosecutors could bring cases against personal users and wait for any one of them to sue because cannabis is legal in their state. The feds would then seek a court order saying that federal law trumps state law.
2. The federal government could bring lawsuits directly against the states for permitting their citizens from doing something that is expressly illegal under federal law. This is unlikely, not only because of the political and public backlash, but also because it would likely fail and they haven’t tried it yet.
3. The federal government could cut off federal grants to the weed states unless those states’ legislatures enacted anti-marijuana laws. The power of the purse is substantial, and we might see this type of economic blackmail.
4. Perhaps the most likely scenario is that the federal government will strong-arm local authorities to join them in so-called “joint task force operations” to ferret out those who are not strictly complying with the weed states’ laws, including violations for quantity possessed, distribution, and growing. Technical violations will not be forgiven, and dispensaries will be targeted the most.
No matter which option(s) the feds take, one thing is certain: if any of its actions interfere with state law, many people will take steps to get the feds out of the way. Regardless of how you personally feel about marijuana, this is an issue of states being able to pass laws that are respected by the federal government. The states are indeed “united” but they are united voluntarily to share in resources, common defense, and many other reasons. They didn’t sign up to be manhandled by an over-reaching federal government that fails to honor basic human choice and individual liberties. With nearly half the states enacting weed friendly laws, we’re reaching the tipping point and can only hope that the feds don’t double down.