Marijuana laws: How will states deal with the feds?

  • November 11, 2012 - 5:26 PM

The resounding votes of "yes" on Washington's Initiative 502 and Colorado's Amendment 64 put several groups of politicians in an uncomfortable spot. Marijuana is prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Obama administration has looked the other way, at least much of the time, in the 17 states that passed laws treating marijuana like a prescription drug. But the Obama administration has never said it would look the other way at states that treated marijuana like alcoholic drinks.

In Washington and Colorado, that is what the people want. They have just said so, and federal authorities will have to decide how to respond.

On the question of marijuana, people in Washington have been far ahead of state officials, too. Fifty-nine percent voted for medical marijuana in 1998, well before their Legislature would have dared do such a thing. Now voters have taken the next step, again before the Legislature.

A legalization bill did get a hearing in the Legislature in 2011, but it never came to the floor. If it had, it would have failed and if it had passed, Gov. Chris Gregoire would have vetoed it. Gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee both opposed Initiative 502 because of the conflict with the federal government. The people didn't care. They voted for it.

The vote on Initiative 502 is a challenge to state political leaders to stand up to the federal government. In federal court, the states won't have a strong position. But this is ultimately a political question, and the votes in Colorado and Washington have now made it an urgent one.


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