Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

The 420 Times Headshot

Marijuana Legalization: What Will the Feds Do?

Posted: Updated:
MARIJUANA
Getty

According to U.S. Attorney general Eric Holder, an official federal response will soon be forthcoming in regards to recreational marijuana legalization recently enacted in Colorado and Washington.

There have been several hints as to what the federal government is going to do, including assertions from Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske that growers in both states will be targeted. And of course we have President Obama saying the feds will not go after patients, but this leaves growers and distributors wide open.

But in the end, words mean very little; actions are what count. But what actions will be taken by the federal government when it comes to legalization?

"No one knows what the federal response to the new laws in Colorado and Washington will be," Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority told The 420 Times. "Honestly, I don't even think those at the highest levels of the Obama administration know what they want to do. That's probably why it's taken so long for them to respond to the strong message voters sent in November. Truth be told, this all might be for the best. The longer the feds take to weigh in, the more time regulators in Colorado and Washington have to begin implementing the laws voters passed. The more of the genie that comes out of the bottle, the harder it'll be for the feds to push it back in, if that's what they end up deciding to try to do."

Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project concurs. "It seems as if the federal government is taking a wait-and-see approach right now, and we hope they continue to do so and allow Colorado and Washington to implement their industry regulations," Morgan told us. "We're confident that both states will regulate marijuana cultivation and sales in a responsible manner. Steps will be taken to ensure that out-of-state diversion is minimized and businesses follow the regulations. Assuming this occurs, we do not expect that DOJ will involve themselves too heavily in state affairs."

Hopefully the Obama Administration decides that getting involved at all in recreational legalization affairs within the states is just not worth it.

"One thing we do know is that the Obama administration sees the political value in at least being perceived as friendly to drug policy reform," Tom Angell said. "We've seen that time and time again, from when then leaked the initial Ogden 'hands off medical marijuana states' memo to the AP late on a Sunday night to ensure that it'd dominate the news cycle for the coming week, to when the president more recently said that he has 'bigger fish to fry' than recreational marijuana users. We even see it when administration officials -- from the president and drug czar on down -- repeatedly say we 'can't arrest our way out of the drug problem' and talk about the need for a balanced, health-focused approach to drug control. They even said they were ending the 'war on drugs,' or at least they were going to call it that anymore.

"However, despite saying all these nice things, we've seen the status quo of federal policy continue pretty much unchanged. The ratio of dollars in the federal drug control budget for treatment and prevention as opposed to law enforcement and interdiction remains virtually unchanged from the Bush administration. Obama's federal agencies closed down far more medical marijuana dispensaries in one term than Bush did in two terms.

"So even if the feds make a big announcement soon that they intend to fully respect what the voters in Colorado and Washington approved on election day, it'll be important for us in the reform movement to closely monitor the situation and continue to pressure the administration to match its deeds to its rhetoric."

It's hard to imagine what President Obama has to gain at this point by continuing the cannabis crackdown. His political campaign career is over. He never has to face voters again. He can be as progressive as he wants and face no backlash.

One has to wonder just how "progressive" Barack Obama is to start with.

- Joe Klare