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December 12, 2012

Noting the potency of voter initiatives in pot prohibition reform

I have long been a big fan of direct democracy, not only because some forms of legal reform often seem only possible through the initiative process, but also because often officials seem to be more respectful of these reforms because they represent the direct voice of the people.  This reality is reflected in a quote from a Republican member of Congress in this new piece from The Hill, which is headlined "New marijuana laws cause confusion."  Here are excerpts:

Marijuana has been a centerpiece of the federal government’s “war on drugs,” aimed at cracking down on drug use in the United States.  But the growing number of people who support the decriminalization of pot — which is still legally classified nationally in the same category as heroin — has some policymakers in Washington, D.C., rethinking their approach.

“The voters of Colorado have spoken,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) in an interview with The Hill.  “I’m certainly opposed to the direction that the state is going, but I respect the will of voters and the process.

“Either the Justice Department needs to recognize, in its enforcement, the state’s right to choose, or we need conforming legislation at a federal level.”...

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) told The Hill that while it has not received any revised investigatory directives from the administration since the laws were enacted, the agency prioritizes large-scale cultivation and distribution networks over smaller personal use and distribution when it considers which cases to spend time and money on....

Former President Jimmy Carter said on Tuesday, during a CNN forum, that he supports legalizing marijuana.  On the several occasions Obama, through social networks, has asked the public for its questions, participants have voted overwhelmingly in favor of marijuana legalization as the leading topic. But the administration has been quiet for the past month, holding several private discussions with the governors of Colorado and Washington while maintaining a public approach of wait-and-see....

Both Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) have talked with either Attorney General Eric Holder or Deputy Attorney General James Cole within the past month, but have received no assurances of any progress, according to spokesmen for the governors.

A looming concern for the governors is that their states will spend a good deal of time and money in an effort to conform with the new laws — building a new tax and regulatory structure, incorporating the sale of marijuana into commerce laws and training law enforcement officers to test the THC levels of drivers — only to have the DOJ continue to prosecute criminal marijuana cases involving their voters. “We don’t want to get so far down the road and then have the process stopped,” said Cory Curtis, a spokesman for Gregoire. “If we’re stopped in the eleventh hour and we’ve already put in the money, which is several million dollars, we’d rather know on the front end. And for citizens, they should be able to know what the ground rules are,” Curtis said....

Anticipating their role in helping to iron out the differences between the state and federal law, a small group of members is supporting a legislative fix put forward by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) that would allow a state’s marijuana laws not to be trumped by federal drug laws.

DeGette has been talking with Hickenlooper at length, as well as with Republicans, about a bill she introduced two weeks ago, which already has Coffman and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) as co-sponsors. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), an avid supporter of decriminalizing marijuana, told The Hill that he would also be in favor of backing the bill.

But not all Republicans are convinced that legalizing marijuana is the correct approach. A spokesman for Rep. Scott Tipton said the Colorado Republican has “serious concerns” about the damaging effect the law could have on children, and is waiting for the DOJ and Hickenlooper to finish their discussions on the issue.

I am fairly certain that federal representatives would not be working quite so hard to accomodate these state reforms if they did not so obviously represent the will of the majority expressed in a big election.  Indeed, I think it is a telling and significant contrast in politics and policy in how the feds are now responding to state pot reform passed by initiative as opposed to how the feds responded previously to state immigration reforms based by representative.

December 12, 2012 at 09:12 AM | Permalink

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"I am fairly certain that federal representatives would not be working quite so hard to accomodate these state reforms if they did not so obviously represent the will of the majority expressed in a big election. Indeed, I think it is a telling and significant contrast in politics and policy in how the feds are now responding to state pot reform passed by initiative as opposed to how the feds responded previously to state immigration reforms based by representative."

A good insight. It is for the same reason that, if the death penalty is to be abolished, it should be done through the people's initiative rather than by state legislatures (Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, Connectiut) or state courts (New York and, in effect, Maryland).

Of course, there's a reason abolitionists prefer to take it up with institutions capable of being influenced by lobbying, rather than with the electorate. They just recently took it up with an electorate about as favorably disposed to them as any, and, as the President once said, "took a licking."

Better those backroom deals!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 12, 2012 10:45:03 AM

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