Pot votes in 2 states challenge US drug war

First came marijuana as medicine. Now comes legal pot for the people.
Associated Press
Nov 8, 2012

Those who have argued for decades that legalizing and taxing weed would be better than a costly, failed U.S. drug war have their chance to prove it, as Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow pot for recreational use.

While the measures earned support from broad swaths of the electorate in both states Tuesday, they are likely to face resistance from federal drug warriors. As of Wednesday, authorities did not say whether they would challenge the new laws.

Pot advocates say a fight is exactly what they want.

"I think we are at a tipping point on marijuana policy," said Brian Vicente, co-author of Colorado's marijuana measure. "We are going to see whether marijuana prohibition survives, or whether we should try a new and more sensible approach."

Soon after the measures passed, cheering people poured out of bars in Denver, the tangy scent of pot filling the air, and others in Seattle lit up in celebration.

Authorities in Colorado, however, urged caution. "Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly," said Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed the measure.

As the initial celebration dies down and the process to implement the laws progresses over the next year, other states and countries will be watching to see if the measures can both help reduce money going to drug cartels and raise it for governments.

Governments in Latin America where drugs are produced for the U.S. market were largely quiet about the measures, but the main adviser to Mexico's president-elect said the new laws will force the U.S. and his country to reassess how they fight cross-border pot smuggling.

Analysts said that there would likely be an impact on cartels in Mexico that send pot to the U.S., but differed on how soon and how much.

Both measures call for the drug to be heavily taxed, with the profits headed to state coffers. Colorado would devote the potential tax revenue first to school construction, while Washington's sends pot taxes to an array of health programs.

Estimates vary widely on how much they would raise. Colorado officials anticipate somewhere between $5 million and $22 million a year. Washington analysts estimated legal pot could produce nearly $2 billion over five years.

Both state estimates came with big caveats: The current illegal marijuana market is hard to gauge and any revenue would be contingent upon federal authorities allowing commercial pot sales in the first place, something that is very much still in question.

Both measures remove criminal penalties for adults over 21 possessing small amounts of the drug — the boldest rejection of pot prohibition laws passed across the country in the 1930s.

Pot has come a long way since. In the 1960s, it was a counterculture fixture. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs. Twenty-five years later, California approved medical marijuana. Now, 17 states and Washington, D.C., allow it.

Meanwhile, many more cities either took pot possession crimes off the books or directed officers to make marijuana arrests a low priority.

On Tuesday night, broad sections of the electorate in Colorado and Washington backed the measures, some because they thought the drug war had failed and others because they viewed potential revenue as a boon for their states in lean times. A similar measure in Oregon failed.

"People think little old ladies with glaucoma should be able to use marijuana. This is different. This is a step further than anything we have seen to date," said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who has studied the history of pot prohibition.

The Justice Department says it is evaluating the measures. When California was considering legalization in 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder said it would be a "significant impediment" to joint federal and local efforts to combat drug traffickers.

Federal agents have cracked down on medical pot dispensaries in states where it is legal, including California and Washington. Individual pot users may not be immediately impacted, as authorities have long focused on dismantling trafficking operations.

Peter Bensinger, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration from 1976 to 1981, and other former DEA heads urged Holder to make more noise this year about the pot votes. Colorado was a critical state for President Barack Obama's re-election.

Now, he said, "I can't see the Justice Department doing anything other than enforce the law. There's no other out."

Brian Smith of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which will implement the new law, said officials are waiting anxiously to find out what federal law enforcement authorities plan to do. "They have been silent," Smith said.

Both states will have about a year to come up with rules for their legal pot systems.

In Mexico, which produces much of the pot that gets into the U.S. and where cartels and the government are embroiled in a yearslong deadly battle, the man in charge of Enrique Pena Nieto's presidential transition said the administration opposed legalization.

"These important modifications change somewhat the rules of the games in the relationship with the United States," Luis Videgaray told Radio Formula.

A former high-ranking official in the country's internal intelligence service who has studied the potential effects of legalization said he was optimistic that the measures would damage the cartels, possibly cutting profits from $6 billion to $4.6 billion.

Alejandro Hope, now an analyst at the think tank Mexican Competitiveness Institute, said among the complicating factors could be whether a strong U.S. crackdown on legal pot could negate all but the smallest effects on the cartels.

In Seattle, John Davis, a medical marijuana provider, called passage of the state's measure "a significant movement in the right direction." But he said he expected some confrontation with federal authorities.

"This law does not prevent conflicts," he said, adding that its passage "will highlight the necessity to find some kind of resolution between state and federal laws."

 

Comments

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wiredmama222

The DEA will now be forced to deal with the VOTED rights of the citizens of two states and the Federal laws passed WITHOUT the votes of the citizenry. This should be an interesting fight. Who prevails? The soverign rights of States or the Federal government?

Justme...

Pretty interesting. I'm thinking they'll collect tax dollars (which is really the incentive here), but turn around and spend it on regulation and oversite. And, legal pot will be so much more expensive because of regulation and taxes, it will continue to be sold illegally for much cheaper. Just my prediction - this won't solve any problems or generate net revenue.

Bluto

People still buy cigarettes ,even though the tax on them keeps going up . What makes you think the pot heads would be any different ? Perhaps , because taking the pot makes them so energetic and sharp of mind , eh ? ; )))

Contango

Fed law trumps State law. The Justice Dept. will come down hard.

Besides, once the product is out in the general population and seeds become available - game over because authorities will no longer be able to control the sale and distribution.

deertracker

The states will find a way to profit from the legalization even if it is through the traffic laws. I see the letters DUI taking on a new meaning. Pooh is right, once people REALLY start growing their own it will be uncontrollable.

Contango

Glad you agree Bambie.

Why do you think that it's often called "weed"?

Easy to grow in lousy soil and few natural enemies.

Gotta take Mr. Obama back to his ol' Choom Gang days. How could he tell AG Holder to quash it without being a hypocrite?

CHOOM FOR THE MASSES!

deertracker

Even a broken clock is right twice a day! LOL!

Contango

@ deertracker:

Never thought of you as broken Bambie, just ignorant. There obviously is still hope for you. Pay attention.

Unassumer

Roadside pot markets. I'm in.

Contango

@ Unassumer:

LOL

"Drive & Fly"

EdO's

If there were a real "war on drugs", we wouldn't have our communities saturated with illegal prescription drugs. They would be stopped at their source i.e. pharmaceutical factories. Keep the populace dumbed down, drugged and struggling while the banksters steal our wealth and our birthright.

mikel

all of us will need pot to make it through the next 4 years with the re-election of the man in the oval office.

沉默寡言的美國人。 您將是奴隸對中國人。

deertracker

C'mon M-I-C-K-E-Y, the election is over, enough about politics for a while.

Contango

@ deertracker:

So just go back to sleep and let the Choom Man do his magic eh Bambie?

The 2014 mid-terms are comin'. Should be fun if the economy is in the toilet.

deertracker

Fun huh? Interesting! If the republiclowns don't get their act together 2014 is going to be a repeat of Tues. night! America has changed.

Contango

@ deertracker:

And all those Obama voters will get to support those oldsters' Soc. Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits with increasingly higher taxes.

Remember: 78 million (mostly white) baby boomers in or fast approaching retirement age.

The joke's on them (and you) Bambie. LOL.

FORWARD SOVIET!

DGMutley

"The 2014 mid-terms are comin'. _Should be fun if the economy is in the toilet._" < Contango

That seems to be the perpetual Republican prayer, their salvation. Sad for sure.

SamAdams

Anybody who knows the history of marijuana criminalization would also know that legalizing pot is a reasonable course of action. Pot wasn't perceived as a serious problem until Richard Nixon and his puritanical attitudes decided that it was. The Nixon administration ordered a study to prove the evils of marijuana so that it could be criminalized; unfortunately for Tricky Dick, the study was returned indicating the relative safety and moderate effects of cannabis. So what did Nixon do? Commissioned another study. Then another. It wasn't until more than TWENTY studies were done (all showing the same results as the first, by the way), that Nixon found himself a researcher who had the same puritanical mindset. The criminalization of marijuana is based SOLELY on that 25th or 26th study. Awesome, eh?

Now we spend a royal fortune in the losing battle called "The War on Drugs." Court dockets and prisons are overcrowded with non-violent marijuana offenders. But the money and the power call to many! There are two simple answers: 1. Legalize (and regulate like alcohol) marijuana; and 2. SHUT THE DAM*ED BORDERS DOWN (to get the truly nasty drug market under control).

Of course, making sense is all too rarely the government's course...

BW1's picture
BW1

States' rights - it's not just for racists anymore!

It's about time leftists had a reason to rediscover the 10th Amendment.

rickross2

Time to get Ohio on the right page. Good for you Colorado and Washington, its harmless!

Centauri

The war on drugs was all based on lies. The 1% support the war of drugs. The 1% wants you to use their very expensive drugs that kill thousands each month.

kURTje

Contango what are you smoking? Deertracker is so right & you are....nevermind.

Centauri

http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/ Good information can be found here.

Centauri

http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/... Does this mean if you are super rich and own a boat, car and guns worth $500,001 or more, they cannot be taken by the government? Those super rich folks have a racket going with the current laws.

Administrative forfeiture can be used to seize and forfeit the following:
• any amount of currency;
• personal property valued at $500,000 or less, including cars, guns, and boats;
• hauling conveyances of unlimited value.