Pot legalization is on the ballot in three US states. What happens when one state says yes to weed?

This November, voters in three US states—Colorado, Washington, and Oregon—will be able to vote on ballot measures that would legalize marijuana, period.

Not just for medicinal purposes, but for recreational purposes, too.

At Rolling Stone, a smart blog post by Julian Brookes on what happens when the first state says "yes" to weed.

When that happens, expect one of two things – either: the federal government, in deference to democratic principles, will decline to enforce its ban on marijuana, creating space for the state to be a "laboratory of democracy," working out its new policy by trial and error, learning as it goes, creating a trove of hard-earned lessons to guide the states that (inevitably) will follow; or: the federal government will bide its time and then come down hard, busting growers and retailers, seizing land and property (or, just as effective, threatening to), going after banks that serve pot business, and doing whatever else it takes to shut down the state's legalization push.

True, the feds would be within their rights to crack down. A state can legalize all it wants, but – incredibly – happy-go-lucky marijuana will still be a Schedule I drug, right up there on the federal shit list with brain melters and organ fryers like Heroin, Cocaine, and PCP. And, no, this isn't some quaint, disregarded artifact from olden times: A personal stash can get you a year in federal prison, a single plant up to five.

Read the rest.


  1. My answer? One state become a tourist Mecca and reaps some serious reward for a short while and becomes the base of an industry that will expand with each new legitimization. 

    It’s a big brass ring, unless Romney takes the Oval Office.

    1.  DEA raids of marijuana dispensaries under Obama exceeds that of his putatively more conservative predecessor, so there won’t be a brass ring whoever becomes the Keeper of the Executive Kill List this Fall.

      1. Two words. Gay Marriage. 

        But really, ordering all those dispensaries closed himself was he? Natch.

        Of the two contenders, which one is actually able to make a reasoned change in a stance, regardless of outside definitions of his motivation, if the change in question is against status quo culturally?


        Change comes slow and hard, people that feel let down by one man were fools to begin with.

        1.  I’m sure you’re a nice dude, but I don’t want to gay marry you.

          The DEA is an executive branch agency. Barack Obama is responsible for its direction and tone. The buck stops at the Oval Office. If he wanted to keep his campaign promises, he re: drug laws and enforcement, he could have. He could fire Leonhart at will, but he hasn’t and won’t.

          I’ll never understand those who still see Obama as a candidate for change.

          1. A remark deliberately distorting my mention of gay marriage in a way that makes you appear a bit of a homophobe, when coupled with your refusal to answer the simple question posed.

            Then you resort again to oversimplification, presuming yet again that one man can fix things. Not even the president, it takes time and victories on multiple fronts.

            But again, answer the question. -of the two contenders-

      1. Yeah, but have you ever tried to run a trunk full of gambling through the desert to get it out to other states?

        Also, dibs on writing Fear and Loathing in Denver, where my protagonist goes to the drug-taking oasis and spends the whole time illegally gambling and avoiding run-ins with the law.

  2. I, as a plucky optimist who takes people at their word, predict that the ‘states’ rights’ lobby will turn out in force to protect the state that does so from federal retribution!


    1. Or a lame duck appeal for party boosting. McCain supposedly supported marywanna in AZ when he was presumed a lame duck,-edit but not directly. Everything I can google on it says he has always opposed it including medical marijuana.

      1. Wow it’s a really good thing the internet has you to keep that nugget of knowledge going. I guess we’ll just have to take you at your word. If I wanna cite this in a paper, should I put “Funk Daddy” in parenthesis at the end of the sentence?

  3. Has anyone done a cost-benefit analysis of state-level enforcement? Certainly the status quo is beneficial for state and local police departments, since they get to confiscate more property, but enforcement has more significant direct costs for states: incarceration, plus lost tax revenue from the incarcerated.  States with budgetary problems (that’s nearly all of them) might be tempted to repeal the state laws, implicitly sticking the feds with the enforcement and incarceration tab, presuming the feds feel motivated to pick it up.

    1. Not to mention taxing that shit.

      At first it just needs to be regulated exactly like alcohol, something we’re already familiar with and accept. Get a pack of Marleys at your local liquor store.

      I have a good feeling about Colorado and Amendment 64. That’s my second favourite power of two.

    2. Good call, they could be hoping for an overall change while forcing the federal government to do their dirty work. Either way it’s win/win for them. They get to look hip and progressive or claim success on cracking down drug activity. It’s politics.

  4. Damn, I wish that reigning in the bankers and other financially speculative crooks that have robbed this country on a more massive scale than anything the modern world has ever seen was an issue that saw the tenth of the effort that getting bud legalized has seen by the grass (heh heh i know…) roots movement that has sprung up around it. I mean, yes I get it, pot is fantastic and it should be legal for too many reasons to list but I guess that I just don’t give a shit if this issue is on the front line of our legislator’s agendas. I wish we could pull together around something that would help everyone. I guess legalizing pot is just more realistic than even trying to make an attempt at restraining the .4 percent of our population in this country that have spent last 100 years fucking us over completely.

      1. Led by a hoard of eager Red-eyes full of Marshmellow Mateys and Wheat Thins that have been topped and toasted with old store-brand cheese that they just cut the moldy pieces off of. And they will travel to the fight slowly due to their inability to react quickly when red lights turn green.
        Edit: Sorry I offended some people with this joke about stoners. I didn’t realize I would be taken to task on this but I am willing to defend my views that I stated above. I don’t really have time to defend my stupid joke though.

        1. I see you haven’t bought in to the “war on drugs” propaganda at all, then. Or is, say… Richard Branson one of your “eager red-eyes full of [junk food], travelling slowly due to his inability to react quickly”? Was Carl Sagan?

          Oh, and…

          I wish we could pull together around something that would help everyone.


          The prohibition on marijuana […] has done an impressive job of racking up racially-biased arrests; throwing people in jail; burning up police time and money; propping up a $30 billion illegal market; and enriching psychotic Mexican drug lords.

          I think getting rid of those problems would, y’know, help everyone.

          1. I think you are being condescending and I know that I invited that by suggesting that the internet’s holy cow of causes wasn’t as holy as some claim but don’t assume that I do not understand the drug war and the shit that it causes just because I think that there are problems that eclipse it on the larger scale. Even your own number of 30 billion is a paltry sum compared to the trillions that I am talking about.

    1. One of the ways ‘They’ fuck us is the prison industry. 
      Wouldn’t legalizing hemp flowers take about 40% of their business?

      1. Yeah people are taking me for saying that marijuana legalization wasn’t a legitimate concern when actually all I was saying was that I wish that we could focus energy on the biggest fish. Strike at the root of the problem.

    2. I believe that politics is complex and multi-faceted enough that people can have more than one political interest at a time.

      I read this as akin to ‘Why are scientists working on X when they could be curing cancer’.

      1. You read it correctly. I was basically saying, “Why are scientists working on curing acne when they could be curing cancer.”

        1. Because making people’s lives more pleasant is as important as extending them? Although the point is that it doesn’t require justification, I was using that as an example of how silly you were being.

          Should every top-level discipline be focussed on one goal? Is that actually how the world should work in your head? Even in politics where everyone’s interests and agendas are completely different? Mind, boggled.

          1. The only reason I said that is that, given the context of my original statement, I thought that you were drawing a parallel that didn’t make any sense or address the comment that I made at all. Maybe go back up and read my original statement and read my comment for what it was and not make up something else in your own head.

          2. I just went and read it again, and it still sounds like you’re suggesting that there are better things to be spending our time on (which was the point I was refuting). Which is odd as the action I’ve seen against the 1% / bankers / government is infinitely bigger than that of pot criminalisation. So now, after re reading, disagree with you on 2 levels :)

      2. Ok, ok. I think we would find some more common grounds on this than can be transfered through internet conversation if it was over beers or something. Have a good day man and good luck with all. Sorry if I was snide.

        1. I believe that with all Internet debates, this is the case.

          Snide is fine, I’m still trying to provoke another, ‘I beg your pardon?’. I’ve only collected one so far.

          1. I’m work but: The base of my argument is that if the financial fraud that has fleeced our country and working class people into new-age slavery was addressed at the root, then the other problems that we have (like the inability to do something as simple and reasonable like legalize and tax marijuana) would fall into place because we would have reigned in the corrupt financial interests that make doing simple things so fucking difficult. To go back to your medical analogy, I feel that the issue of legalization is near the top of the tumor that is our combined societal heap of problems. Cutting off this part of the tumor would be nice but I would like to kill the problem at the root of the tumor. The financial elite in this country love it when the masses are distracted with other things besides stopping them from continuing to rape us of our resources and our potential for economic prosperity. I know that there are some efforts to do this like you mentioned. I was basically saying that I was jealous of the cause of legalization because it has somehow gained so much traction at a grassroots level. These things that I fight for are not as sexy but I truly feel that if we were to tackle them, legalization wouldn’t be a debate but just the logical step for our society to take as a progressive and aware group of people that didn’t let the .4 percent control everything that we did at a societal level. Sorry I really have to go now.

          2. Cutting off this part of the tumor would be nice but I would like to kill the problem at the root of the tumor.

            While you’re reinventing society from the ground up, would it be okay if people with cancer could get drugs that would make their lives more bearable?

    3.  To me, it’s more about the whole “arresting millions, mostly poor youth of color, and charging them with felonies that follow them for life while throwing non-violent criminals into prison” thing than about the whole “smoking weed” thing, although that’s certainly a plus. Your comment suggests that you are either fortunate enough to be in the position not to see the horrors of the war on some drugs or see them but do not connect them to the war. Neither of these are any fault of yours, but it’s important to note that there’s a bigger picture here.

      1. I understand the bigger picture of the drug war and you shouldn’t assume that I am so privileged that I can’t wrap my mind around it. My position is that the drug war, while affecting many, is a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions that have been filtered out of our economies and into the pockets of the people that have set up the rules of the game in a way that it makes it easy for them to do so. I have been to worst edges of some of the countries and experienced the horrors of the failed “drug war” first hand so I am sorry if my comment led you to believe otherwise. 

  5. the consumption, i predict, is really a two fold issue. for pot heads who know, hash is great. one side will be “millions of more pounds of bud than before! consumption skyrockets!” the other side is “it takes an ounce of weed(28.5 grams) to make a couple grams(5 grams max) of hash oil”. because when weed is legal i’m smoking hash.

    1.  In the Netherlands (Portugal too?) consumption has gone down after decriminalisation. 

      I prefer the unprocessed flowers, their smell, texture, aroma and look. 

    1. Strictly speaking, it isn’t ‘considered less harmful (that doesn’t kick in until the dickering between schedules 2 and below starts), just distinguished by the fact that it has a history of medical use and is still available by prescription(frequently for intranasal anesthesia, of all things…)

      There are a number of rather hardcore substances in Schedule II(most of the punchier opioid anaesthetics and good old methamphetamine); they just have recognized medical uses.

  6. Federal law regulates marijuana under power derived from the Commerce Clause of the federal Constitution.

    In, Gonzales v. Raich ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonzales_v._Raich ) the Supreme Court confirmed (broadly speaking, and without getting into some complicated sub-issues) that the Federal government’s law would control over that of any counter state laws when it comes to marijuana stuff (again, to use a broad brush, there are also some more complicated legal issues, such as preemption also at play here).

    That means, basically, that the federal legislature would have to scrap whatever law is
    conflicting with counter state laws.  If federal laws weren’t scrapped, then you end up with the situation you have now in states like California, where the state may make marijuana legal in some situations (ie. doctor’s prescription and what-have-you), while it is still categorically  illegal under federal law. The state government won’t prosecute you, but you can still end up with federal prosecutors coming after you (as does indeed regularly happen in California, particularly with “dispensaries”).

    Were a state to make marijuana completely legal, it would be the exact same thing; no state prosecutions, but still federal ones.

    Unless the attorney general chose not to prosecute, but that is the decision of an executive agency, and so subject to changes associated with changes in administrations etc. I’ve discussed this once before in a post, but for awhile people thought the current administration wasn’t going to enforce federal law, but then they did…

    A sort of interesting aside to this equation is that the Robert’s court in the recent ACA ruling (the health care stuff) has adjusted the power of the Commerce clause (by weakening it)for the first time in a dog’s age, which could lead to some interesting arguments down the road that the new Commerce Clause boundaries would change the federal government’s authority to regulate marijuana usage within the states. Spoiler alert: this argument is probably not going anywhere…

    And for the record, the Rolling Stone article puts the term “laboratory of democracy” in quotes without bothering to explain where it came from. It is a quote from Justice Brandeis ( Brandeis was awesome, and is kind of responsible for the concept of personal privacy in American law. A discussion of the case where he said this is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_State_Ice_Co._v._Liebmann ). Justice O’Connor also said it in the Raich case mentioned above, in a sort of lament that the states couldn’t regulate their own drug policy in that context.

  7. “brain melters and organ fryers like Heroin, Cocaine, and PCP”

    Oh I see it’s cool to talk about how pot propaganda is dumb, but only if you apologize by applying the same hyperbole to other drugs. This kind of articulation is counterproductive for liberalizing drug policy because it just entrenches the same old bullshit.

    1. Precisely. There is for instance a clear case to be made that alcohol is much more damaging and dangerous than Heroin, if the latter is pure and legally obtainable.

      1. The purity of most drugs is a big issue.  What makes so many of these substances so dangerous is what they cut them with, which is a consequence of the product being forced into the black market.

        Policy is killing people, they’d be taking the drugs either way.

        1. Yes. I hadn’t realized until recently that the famous ‘meth mouth’ is actually caused by characteristic impurities in methamphetamine (leftover hydroiodic acid from the reductive amination, I believe) rather than by the drug itself. Most people, I expect, don’t know that – and the government of course benefits from the misconception.

  8. The article is wrong. Cocaine and PCP are actually schedule II drugs, meaning they have a high potential for abuse but have some accepted medicinal benefit. Marijuana is actually considered to be worse according to federal drug schedules, as it is considered to have no medicinal benefit.

  9. I’ve been hearing that the end of Prohibition II has been “five to seven years away, tops” since the late 1970s. I stopped holding my breath a long time ago. We’re just not that smart.

  10. “True, the feds would be within their rights to crack down.”

    False, the government doesn’t have “rights”, only powers — which are more often than not abused. I HATE when people ignorantly claim that the government has “rights”, which are reserved (supposedly) for citizens.

  11. A year for personal stash? Wow.
    “Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.
    Yes, thanks for all the memories — all right let’s see your arms!”

        1.  With my Reundeillegalizeificate-inator, I will reundeillegalizeificate all the medical, recreational, and industrial variations of hemp in the tri-state area!

    1. Actually, it’s a crappy tradeoff. Don’t you have some way of making conservative heads explode that doesn’t involve long jail sentences for victimless crimes?

  12. ” Schedule I drug, right up there on the federal shit list with brain melters and organ fryers like Heroin, Cocaine, and PCP”

    Cocaine & pcp are schedule II drugs. Heroin is not an organ fryer, actually none of those drugs are. I guess you could call psychedelics, schedule I drugs brain melters if you were uneducated on the matter, but i digress.

  13. I don’t know what kind of luck the states would have legally with this but why not pass laws at the state level that say, if you are a federal agent,  you must register your presence with the state immediately upon arrival and have severe penalties for not doing so.  So, DEA wants to come hassle you … fine.  Sign here.  Didn’t identify yourself?  5 years state pen.  That makes as much sense as the Marijuana laws.

    1. This wouldn’t work within our current legal framework (of federalism / nationalism) for a variety of reasons which are difficult to get into in a meaningful way in this type of forum. The very very short version (which will leave a lot of blank spots on the map) is this: 1) It has been ruled that the federal government may regulate drug policy (under Commerce Clause authority) 2) The federal government may make laws which are “necessary and proper” to effectuate their Commerce Clause powers ( see one of the most famous cases in the history of American jurisprudence for the basics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mcculloch_v_maryland 3. Valid federal laws “preempt” state laws in many circumstances, including when they directly conflict. This was actually addressed recently by the Court in the Arizona immigration case. The federal government (amongst other things) was basically arguing that the state of Arizona was setting up its own foreign policy scheme, which the Court did not let fly.
      Anywho, interesting stuff to think about.

  14. It’s not true that there are only two options, or that only congress can change the federal stance on marijuana. The president can, through executive order, reclassify pot under the Controlled Substances Act. If weed were no longer schedule I, states would be free to treat it as they choose. 

    1.  Ah, I hadn’t thought about that! I don’t really know ins-and-outs of federal drug law well enough; are states allowed more freedom to regulate drugs if they aren’t schedule I? Further, the President has the authority to change where on the schedule a particular drug appears? If both are true, thats an interesting possibility, although it still seems there would be potential problems with the whims of future administrations (deciding to switch drugs around and what not?).

      1. The President has control over scheduling; Obama could legalize within the half hour if he wanted (though it wouldn’t go into effect for a little bit). If a drug is schedule I, then it is illegal anywhere in the US. Most (all?) states have their own cannabis laws, meaning it is both a federal and state offense.
        If cannabis where moved to, say, schedule II (medical but restricted), then it would be a federal offense to use (or sell or produce, etc) it in non-medical and non-prescribed fashion, as well as whatever kind of offense it would be in that state. For example, if it were moved to schedule II but still entirely illegal under state law (like, let’s say, ND, where you can get prison time for a resin stain on your tie-dyed Jim Morrison shirt), then you would still be subject to state law even if you had a prescription from medicalized neighbor state Montana. Even if cannabis were descheduled, like basil, North Dakota (and others) could still make it a crime in their state, while others could let it well alone, or anything in-between (decriminalize but not legalize, medicalize but not legalize, etc).
        It’s kind of like abortion laws: the feds have their own rules, and some states have stricter rules on top of those that you are supposed to follow in those states.
        Does that help?

  15. The only way we will ever get legal marijuana is for the alcohol/tobacco industry to decide it is worth their while and then they will instruct the politicians they own to legalize it.

  16. What happens?  What happens is all the politicians who already agree with us behind closed doors finally realize that this issue isn’t some dangerous third rail of politics and that it’s actually a mainstream, majority-support issue. 

  17. Cocaine is Schedule II. It can be administered by a physician  (not a nurse) for a limited number of medical situations. 

    They have marijuana scheduled higher than cocaine in their bizarro world.

  18. My only concern with the legalization of marijuana is that it will hamper law enforcement in doing their job.  Many a criminal has been held in jail for possession while the police gather more evidence to arrest him/her of more serious crimes. 

    1. Really?  So you think it’s good to have something the cops can just arrest and harass anybody for even if they aren’t hurting anyone else?  You must have a lot more faith in the honesty and generally beneficient nature of cops than I do.I mean, there’s so much wrong with what you just posted I don’t even know where to begin.   It sounds like you don’t think possession should be a crime, but you think it’s a good idea to have a law that gives the cops the power to arrest anyone they want, any time they want to.

    2. Surely we could just hold them for being non-white or gay or looking like vagrants.

  19. Hmm. What happens if a state passes a law making it illegal to enforce the federal law.
    The feds move in to arrest somebody for possession, and then the local boys move in and arrest the feds. Now wouldn’t that be fun?

    1. My guess would be that the Feds pay better, and the locals wouldn’t want to piss off a potential future employer.

  20. There’s an important point to make.

    DON’T tax and regulate. Doing that will inevitably create a database of growers; that will be easy pickings for the Feds whenever their prisons are getting a bit too empty.

    No, the slogan should be ‘LEGAL LIKE TOMATOES.’Sure, charge a tax on sales. But unless we have complete legality to simply grow it wherever, legalization won’t go far enough and will still result in prosecutions down the road.

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