With measures to legalize pot leading in Washington and Colorado polls, one of the president's former senior drug policy advisers is predicting the initiatives will incite a war between the feds and the states.
"Once these states actually try to implement these laws, we will see an effort by the feds to shut it down," Kevin A. Sabet told NBC News in a report published Sunday. "We can only guess now what exactly that would look like. But the recent U.S. attorney actions against medical marijuana portends an aggressive effort to stop state-sponsored growing and selling at the outset."
Sabet, who served as a senior advisor in Obama's Office of National Drug Control Policy, is referring to amendments in three states that would, for the first time, legalize marijuana for recreational use. Amendment 64 in Colorado, which would allow the state to regulate marijuana like alcohol, has garnered majority support. Washington's Initiative 502, which seeks to regulate and tax marijuana production and distribution in that state, is polling at 55 percent. A similar measure on the ballot in Oregon is not expected to pass.
Proponents of the legislation say they don't foresee federal agents interfering in states that have legalized cannabis, citing the federal government's silence on the issue this election cycle.
Back in 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the U.S. government would "vigorously enforce" federal laws against marijuana if California voters elected to legalize the drug, but this year federal agents have declined to discuss the issue. "We're not going to speculate on the outcome of the ballot initiative," Colorado U.S. attorney's spokesman Jeff Dorschner told The Denver Post, "other than to say it will not change our enforcement approach."
Alison Holcomb, campaign director for Washington's Initiative 502, told NBC News she thinks that's significant. "They didn't just copy and paste what they did and said in 2010," she said. "We feel pretty good about that."
In an email to HuffPost, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition spokesman Tom Angell expanded on that view.
"If one or two states make history by legalizing marijuana, it is going to be very difficult politically for whoever sits in the Oval Office to get away with making crushing the will of voters one of the first acts of their term," he said. "As we have seen with medical marijuana, federal opposition does nothing to stop voters from passing laws in even more states."