As states legalize pot, will Obama continue the federal War on Weed?

Tom Dickinson in Rolling Stone about the growing conflict between what voters in more and more states want (legalizing pot) and what the federal government wants (shutting down dispensaries with guns and SWAT teams of DEA agents). "While the administration has yet to issue a definitive response to the two new laws, the Justice Department was quick to signal that it has no plans to heed the will of voters. 'Enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act,' the department announced in November, 'remains unchanged."


  1. Why did anyone think otherwise? I think in the coming years, we’re gonna see the federal government give in on LG marriage as state legalization surpasses half the country, and 5-10 years after that we’ll see the same with cannabis.

  2. The President has an obligation to enforce the laws made by Congress regardless of his personal opinion–that’s democracy.  Personally, I don’t believe the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to interfere in intrastate commerce but the courts disagree.

    1. Isn’t that how alcohol prohibition went away?  I had understood that New York state basically legalized alcohol despite the federal ban, then the feds blinked – admitting they didn’t have the budget to enforce it without state support – and the rest of the US got to observe NY reap the benefits of repeal.

      1. A constitutional amendment is not a congressional law. Because Prohibition   was an amendment, that would make the NY law (I’m assuming you’re right on the historical details, IDK) would have been unenforceable. Just like the states rights folks in the South half a century before.

    2. “The President has an obligation to enforce the laws made by Congress ”

      Actually he can decline to enforce law, if he so wishes.

      1. The President takes an oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. In order to decline to enforce the law, the President has to come up with an argument as to why it is unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable.

        1. There is still the concept of prosecutorial discretion. Any police chief or district attorney who decided to expend his department’s budget on chasing down jaywalkers in lieu of dealing with a rampant epidemic of homicides would be out on his ass in short order, or at the very least called onto the carpet for a stern talking-to. 

          Unfortunately, there’s no carpet for the President to be called onto, and we voters whom he’s supposed to be accountable to didn’t have any say in the matter since the only viable alternative would have been even worse.

        2. Ha!  And there’s no better judge of constitutionality than the guy who executes Americans without trial.

      2. At the very least, since the laws as written are unenforcable anyway (based on marijuana usage statistics alone there should be at least 30 million people in jail in the US) so the president has no choice but to prioritize enforcing some laws over others.

      3. All he needs to do is have the drug re-classified to a lower schedule. No laws need be changed. Once it is no longer a controlled substance, the DEA would have no choice but to stop arresting pot smokers.

    3. The president has the power to reschedule cannabis on his own, without Congress. Obama could end the War on Weed all by himself, if he wanted to.

      He doesn’t appear to want to.

        1.  Indeed; if we’re lucky, that was his main reason for continuing and increasing the nonsense during his first term, but he has no re-election to worry about anymore.

        2. There’s an easy counter to that: Make those critics say out loud that they want him to be “hard on drugs,” and then crack a Viagra joke.

          get it, hard-on drugs, see what I did there

      1. Of course he doesn’t want to. If had he wanted to end it, he wouldn’t have picked the most enthusiastic supporter of the war on drugs in the Democratic party as his vice president.  

    4. This is simply false.  The President has already stopped enforcing and defending DOMA and he could, with a single order, reschedule marijuana so that it isn’t considered as dangerous as cocaine and heroin.

      It’s a fact that every President for at least the last 50 years has selectively enforced laws and broken laws with impunity, so I think it’s well within Obama’s power to ignore Washington’s and Colorado’s experiments in sanity, instead of attacking them.

    5. I think Obama’s stance on legalization is solidly against, as he stated at the Summit Of The Americas when several central American countries expressed interest in legalization in an effort to curb drastic problems with organized crime networks. He made it clear, in contrast to the majority opinion at the summit, that he didn’t think legalization was the answer and that he was opposed to it.

    6. Oh please. He has shown what he thinks of our laws. He ignores them whenever he likes. The list is too long to list here but look it up.

  3.  The government always seems to find a way to argue that a particular law or behavior affects interstate commerce when they have a will to do so.  Sometimes it’s not much of a stretch, and we may agree with it (e.g. racial discrimination at restaurants and lodging).  Here the government could argue that “legal” cannabis will leave the state of origin and negatively affect other states in the union.

    On another tangent…
    In this case I could see some people comparing the federal government’s response to state laws regarding same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration, etc., to their response to these new state laws legalizing cannabis.  And perhaps the white house is feeling some pressure because of that.  But I think the big difference is that those other state laws are restricting the rights of citizens of the U.S. while the new cannabis laws are expanding citizens’ rights.  I think if this administration had the will to do so, they could easily craft a policy that upheld the (in my opinion, wrong-minded) federal drug policy and laws while respecting the will of the states.  The issue of federal taxes and cannabis dispensaries which has been used in California to justify the closing of many dispensaries does seem to be a sticky spot though.

    Also, Obummer.

  4. Why should Obama fight it, it’s not like he has to worry about re-election. Even Clinton recently admitted it was a failure. As more states approve it hopefully taxpayers see it as a waste of money fighting something that’s even less dangerous then caffein.

    1. Obama doesn’t, but Democrats do.

      However… seeing how the GOP is pretty much on a steady decline vis-a-vis demographics *and* seeing how pro-legalization is approaching 50% public opinion… maybe there’s hope.

  5. The good news is that DEA alone doesn’t have the resources to wage the war on drugs if state and local agencies choose not to assist. (At least not to the same extent.)

    1. They do actually, especially in states that have decriminalized marijuana or legalized medical marijuana. It’s low hanging fruit and the DEA will always find some state or local agencies that are willing to share credit which pads statistics. It’s a win-win for them because it helps justify budgets.

      1. That’s a hard one to hit the “like” for, but all the agencies around here will eagerly take DEA money and we supposedly have legal medical marijuana.

      2. Decriminalized & legalized aren’t the same things.  Medical and recreational aren’t the same things.  Just possession and everything from personal gardens to state-licensed sale and agriculture aren’t the same thing.

        The DEA can afford to pick on dealers and grow ops in states where personal possession is just a ticket or community service hours.  The DEA can afford to raid medical dispensaries where the state is suppressing the grow ops and dealer networks where the other 95% of the population gets their supply.

        The DEA has not yet had to face the challenge of being the only enforcer of the entire criminalization of pot.

      3. State and local laws can be passed forbidding the LEOs under their purview from cooperating with Federal enforcement efforts. IIRC, San Francisco did something like that a few years ago in regards to ICE immigration crackdowns.

        1. It’s not exactly the same system because Canada, but that’s something that marijuana proponents are trying to do in BC for the 2014 provincial election: Put a provincial referendum vote to basically force police in BC to put simple marijuana possession at the absolute bottom of their priority list and to expend no resources chasing it.

          Of course, that conflicts with federal perogative, so it’ll need to be sorted out with the federal government (which is also part of the proposed act’s details).

  6. Given that huge numbers of Americans under 70 or so have smoked or still smoke weed, from the last 3 presidents to “masters of the Universe” on Wall Street, who is telling their congressmen that we need to fight this one to the death? I just don’t get it. I have a teen & tween, and I tell them the reason they shouldn’t smoke weed is the same as why they’re not ready to drink responsibly. Anything else is hypocrisy, but hypocrisy & Congress seem a package deal these days.

    1. totally agree… whoever’s smart enough to embrace reality on this first is going to be supported a lot more than the establishment thinks imo.

      also, Xeni, its Tim Dickinson, not Tom.

    2. who is telling their congressmen that we need to fight this one to the death?

      State and local police departments, prosecuting attorneys, prison administrators, and those who sell supplies and services to them all.

      Budgets are driven by the size of the mission, as we all understand…..

    3. I guess it’s a special sort of schizophrenia… perhaps related to the one that so many closeted homosexuals in the high ranks of fundamentalist Christianity suffer from. 

      Those who’ve got something to hide yell the loudest, or so it seems.

    4. who is telling their congressmen that we need to fight this one to the death?

      Law enforcement, I imagine, who are facing the lowest crime rates in decades. Massive police layoffs are on the horizon, and they don’t like it. Not. One. Bit.

  7. I don’t think Obama is the problem. In theory the administrations policy has been not to go after people that aren’t breaking state laws but in practice the DEA doesn’t follow that edict. I can think of a few reasons why the DEA doesn’t do so:

    * It undermines their mission in the ‘war on drugs’, this ‘war’ can’t ever be won of course but nevertheless it’s full speed ahead. So push back from those in charge is inevitable due to people wanting to keep their jobs.

    * It can and will have an adverse effect on several agencies budgets that are tasked with enforcing federal law. That is to say they need to appear to make progress to justify their budgets.

    * Given the above rationale why wouldn’t they go after the low hanging fruit? This puts the political hot potato back in the hands of the Obama administration.

    So until Congress decriminalizes the use, possession, and sale of marijuana you can expect to see more of the same from the alphabet agencies as well state/local agencies so  that can pad their statistics to justify budgets. I can’t recall of a single instance where an agency went before Congress to ask for less resources to curb waste can you? Just look at what happened to David Nutt in the UK for his crimes of taking a sane position on updating drug policies.

    1. Ceterum censeo: Annihilate the DEA, and integrate all that remains into the ATF.

      But, yeah – Obama isn’t the problem. In fact, I believe he’s actually pretty much in favour of legalization, considering his, ahem, past activities. The problem is, I’m sure, the Democratic leadership fearing an outcry by the Right Wing hate-machine. “OMG TEH COMMIES WANT TO POISON OUR KIDS!!!11!1”, or something to this effect.
      Although, at this point.. why should the Democrats care?

      1. “Drug control” = population control

        I’m not so sure that Obama wants to throw away the former as a tool toward the latter.

          1. Chomsky sez (in the same vein as many others) —

            The Drug War is an effort to stimulate fear of dangerous people from who we have to protect ourselves. It is also, a direct form of control of what are called “dangerous classes,” those superfluous people who don’t really have a function contributing to profit-making and wealth. They have to be somehow taken care of. . . .

            When you call for a War on Drugs, you know exactly who you’re going to pick up: poor black people. You’re not going to pick up rich white people: you don’t go after them anyway. In the upper-middle class suburb where I live, if somebody goes home and sniffs cocaine, police don’t break into their house.

            So there are many factors making the Drug War a war against the poor, largely poor people of color.

            More here, in case you’re not the sort to dismiss Chomsky from the git-go as a conspiracy nut —


    2. Obama controls those agencies, not vice versa.  Nothing bad would happen to Obama if he acted sanely and liberally in regards to marijuana, and bad things would happen less often to good people.

      Obama and his devotion to politics over sane policy is a major part of the problem.

    3. Obama can fire the head of the DEA and replace her with someone who will listen to him, but since we can’t read his thoughts, we can only assume by his inaction on that regard that he supports the DEA entirely.

  8. Surely a coalition of liberals outraged at the DEA, and reactionaries outraged at the black guy in the white house messing with their states’ rights could be arranged…

  9. In Russia, same sex marriage issue for states, but pot smoking federal issue!


    No, wait… not in Russia…  in Barack Obama’s America.

  10. Hey Barry – remember that cash weslipped you during the campaign, when you were in a pinch?  Time to pay us back with some reasonable decisions around pot.

    1.  … said the giant pharmaceutical corporations who donated a lot more than human constituents.  :-(

  11. Al Capone and the Alcohol Cartels had several hundred politicians on their payroll.  Do you think that the drug cartels don’t also?  What kind of politicians do you think the drug cartels have on their payroll?  Politicians who want to put the drug cartels out of business via legalization and regulation?

  12. Well they’ve done an “excellent” job keeping it from me for 18 years. Keep up the good work DEA

  13. From NORML’s website –
    United States Representatives have introduced bipartisan legislation in Congress — House Bill 6606, The Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2012 — to amend the US Controlled Substances Act to provide that federal law shall not preempt state marijuana laws.The measure is sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, and is co-sponsored by Reps. Blumenauer (OR), Coffman (CO), Cohen (TN), Farr (CA), Frank (MA), Grijalva (AZ), Lee (CA), Paul (TX), and Polis (CO).
    Holy shit!  This is actually happening!  Everybody, and especially everybody in states that have progressive marijuana laws, needs to let their Congressmen know that they need to support this bill, and to introduce it in the Senate as well!  Okay, those of you that disagree with this bill don’t have to, but I’m not sure, but I think that might make you fascists…
    It’s one thing for Obama to say he trumps the states, but if Congress changed the law to respect states’ rights in this issue, Obama would have to get it ruled unconstitutional. It would be a wildly unpopular thing to do.
      Also at that point he’d be smart enough to realize that that would really mar his legacy; he would be seen as one of the last, or very likely the last, presidential stooge in the War On Drugs.  He’s only 51, he could spend 20 years living with that around his neck.

     This needs to get some attention.  Right now if you Google The Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2012, the top four are the Huffington Post, the 420 Times, the actual bill on congress’s site, and the Daily Chronic.  Nowhere on the first two pages are any major news outlets, but FAR MORE TERRIFYING are the absence of BoingBoing and Reddit!
    So start your own chainmails and tweets and what have you, and for god’s sake, somebody reading this knows how to make it go viral, including the admins and editors of our lovely and beloved BoingBoing. For us to not get motivated to support this, we’d have to be a bunch of, uh, potheads.

  14. It’s sort of amazing how people on this thread disregard how conservative Obama is. Nevermind what he says – what does he do?

    1.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it looks like that corporate-puppet-in-chief power’s pretty corrosive too.

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