SID SALTER: Obama faces fight over drug enforcement

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – After a recent column on the election results that made marijuana use and possession legal in two U.S. states, a thoughtful reader responded with a dissenting view.
My column pointed out that now that voters in the states of Colorado and Washington have approved legalizing the sale of marijuana in their states, there is the inevitable showdown between these new state laws and current federal law that makes marijuana sales illegal in all states.
The laws passed in Colorado and Washington allow the recreational use of marijuana and require that the states set up a bureaucracy to license, regulate and tax those sales. That regulatory system is expected to be very similar to the bureaucracies that exist in states to license, regulate and tax the sales of liquor, wine and beer.
The reader wrote: “The federal government has no authority to regulate marijuana, and certainly none to ban it. It occurred to me recently that it took an amendment to the Constitution to ban alcohol, and the stroke of a pen to ban marijuana. What changed in the Constitution in the meantime? Nothing.
“The war on drugs is dangerous, more dangerous than the drugs. The war on drugs is costly, more costly than the drugs. It is a violation of the concept of self-ownership and an assault on liberty. Also, it’s a failure. It doesn’t work. Prohibition never does,” the reader concluded.
While I don’t agree with the reader’s contention that the federal government can’t regulate marijuana possession and use, the fact is that the vote in Colorado and Washington is being played out over just the questions raised in my column and by my reader.
The Obama administration and the Justice Department are debating just what action will be taken by the federal government over enforcement of federal drug laws while the two states engage in their marijuana decriminalization efforts.
From the standpoint of the law, marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. A federal court battle over the conflict between state laws and the CSA would be the most ready basis for federal government legal action challenging the new state laws.
The day before the Washington state law became effective; the U.S. Justice Department released the following preemptive strike on Wednesday – the day before the initiative took effect in Washington warning state residents that the drug remained illegal.
“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”
What is clear at this point is that the Obama administration will have to choose between the pressure from law enforcement for strict enforcement of existing federal laws and pressure from within the Democratic Party to strongly consider these decriminalization efforts. Decriminalizing marijuana has long been a policy sought by more liberal Democrats.
It is ironic, however, that the far Left may find ready allies among more libertarian conservatives who see the effort to decriminalize pot as a question of state’s rights and constitutional freedom.
Bottom line, it will be a long time before the smoke clears on this issue.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601)507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com.