Partners in crime? New state laws challenge fed’s marijuana stance

Nov 7, 2012

First came marijuana as medicine. Now comes legal pot for the people.

Colorado and Washington have become the first states to allow pot for recreational use.

Those who have argued for decades that legalizing and taxing weed would be better than a costly, failed U.S. drug war now have their chance to prove it.

While the measures earned support from broad swaths of the electorate in both states on Tuesday, they are likely to face resistance from federal drug warriors.

As of Wednesday, authorities did not say whether they would challenge the new laws.

"The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," read identical statements issued by the U.S. attorney's offices in Denver and Seattle. "The department is reviewing the ballot initiative here and in other states and has no additional comment at this time."

State laws can be ruled invalid when they "frustrate the purpose" of federal law, and the DOJ could sue to try to block the measures from taking effect on those grounds.

“My gut feeling is that the federal government won’t currently tolerate the commercial recreational sale of marijuana, that is they will not allow it to be regulated like alcohol. That just seems a bridge too far,” said Sam Kamin, professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

“The federal government has been tolerant of marijuana when it’s been under the guise of medicine, when it’s been relatively limited, but to move from those people who have a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana to all adults over the age of 21 is just an enormous growth in the industry.”

As the initial celebration dies down and the process to implement the laws progresses over the next year, other states and countries will be watching to see how the measures work.

Meanwhile in Mexico

The main adviser to Mexico's president-elect says votes legalizing recreational marijuana in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado will force the Mexican government to rethink its efforts on halting marijuana smuggling across the border.

Luis Videgaray is the man in charge of President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto's presidential transition.

He tells Radio Formula that the Pena Nieto administration that takes office in three weeks remains opposed to drug legalization. But he says the votes in the two U.S. states complicate Mexico's commitment to quashing pot growing and smuggling.

Videgaray says the votes "change somewhat the rules of the games" in Mexico's relationship with the United States.