Last November, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults 21 and over. Just last week, Colorado lawmakers passed historic bills that establish a regulatory framework for a legal marijuana market in the state. With all the legal weed in the news, it seems that the federal government would have come out with a clear statement about their stance on Colorado and Washington's pot legalization efforts. But, now, roughly six months since the passage of Amendment 64, the federal government has still not weighed in with their intent.
Sam Kamin, a professor of law at University of Denver and also a member of Gov. John Hickenlooper's pot Task Force which issued 58 recommendations to state lawmakers regarding what regulation should look like in Colorado, weighed in on the federal government's silence on a recent HuffPost Live segment.
"They weren't always silent," Kamin said. "In California in 2010 when a legalization, or adult use, law was put in front of the voters there, the federal government came down very strongly and said 'this is something we won't tolerate' -- people thought they would do that in 2012 and they didn't."
Kamin refers to vocal marijuana legalization critic Attorney General Eric Holder and his 2010 statement saying he would "vigorously enforce" federal marijuana prohibition. But, in 2012, as pressure from former DEA heads and White House drug czars intensified before the November election, Holder remained silent.
But Colorado voters spoke in the November election, and spoke with an overwhelming approval of Amendment 64. So popular was the legal weed measure, it received more votes than President Barack Obama did in the state -- 1,291,771 voted in favor of Amendment 64, Obama received 1,238,490 votes, 53,281 fewer than the amendment.
With A64 legal, Hickenlooper asked Holder how the federal government will respond to the new marijuana legalizing laws in Colorado, but there has yet to be a definitive answer from Holder or the feds.
"Our governor and the governor in Washington state have been trying for the last six months to get some word from Washington, you know 'what do you plan to do?'," Kamin said on HuffPost Live. "And after six months it starts to look like it has some content when the federal government doesn't say anything -- that is, they know what we're up to, they can read the paper as well as the rest of us can, they know that we're pushing ahead with regulation, they know that we're planning to do this on Jan. 1, 2014, have retail stores open, and the more milestones that we pass as we move closer to that date the less likely it seems that the federal government will weigh in."
In April, Attorney General Eric Holder gave voters in Washington and Colorado hope that the Department of Justice may not dramatically interfere with the marijuana legalization initiatives passed in November. Testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee, he opened a window into DOJ's thinking as it makes its decision.
"We certainly continue to review the marijuana legalization initiatives that were passed in Washington and in Colorado," he said, The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reported. "I mean, we are certainly going to enforce federal law. That is what we're going to do. Now is what we do across the board? Where there are federal criminal statutes that is the responsibility of the department to enforce them, and in making those enforcement decisions, we take into account how we can best use the resources that we have and we make determinations about where the greatest harm occurs and where we can have the greatest impact."
By leaving open the question of whether resources would be used to enforce the law "across the board," he gave hope to advocates of the measures.
"The attorney general's carefully phrased remarks leave me cautiously optimistic that the administration just might be trying to find a way to let things play out in Colorado and Washington without the Department of Justice getting in the way," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority.
But Justice spokeswoman Allison Price cautioned against reading too much into his testimony. "The Attorney General was clear that the legalization initiatives in Washington and Colorado are under review by the Department," Price told HuffPost. "There were no additional announcements made in yesterday's hearing."
Proponents of pot legalization have said that they don't foresee federal agents interfering in states that have legalized cannabis, NBC News reported, citing the federal government's silence on the issue during the election cycle.
There is also a July 2012 report from GQ which stated that President Obama wants to "pivot" on the war on drugs during his second term. Marc Ambinder writes:
Don't expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn't expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all.
Optimism about a second-term Obama administration that turns its stance around on marijuana might be difficult for some pot business owners who have seen the DOJ aggressively crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in states like California and Colorado where hundreds of pot shops have been shuttered just since the beginning of 2012.
"I understand why people constantly have to wonder: Is there going to be a raid? Is there going to be a letter? Am I going to hear from my landlords?," Kamin said on HuffPost Live. "But the longer Colorado operates -- and shows that it can operate -- under what everyone I think would agree is the best regulatory regime in the country, the more it looks like we're going to be allowed to push ahead with this and see how it works."
Neil Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said toward the end of 2012 that he was cautiously optimistic about Obama's reaction to states legalizing marijuana. "During his first term, President Obama really disappointed those of us who hoped he might follow through on his campaign pledges to respect state medical marijuana laws," said Franklin. "Still, I'm hopeful that in his second term he'll realize the political opportunity that exists to do the right thing."