Most Americans Want Feds To Respect State Pot Laws, But Whether They Will Is Up For Debate


Recently, the citizens of Colorado and Washington made a decision about how their respective states should regulate marijuana. Since then, the state and local governments have responded by ceasing arrests for those in compliance with the new laws, dismissing pending cases for marijuana offenses, providing new information to the public, and most importantly, certifying the results of the election so that the laws take effect.

Each state's laws are different, but they have one very important thing in common: Both call for the state to be involved in the taxation, regulation and distribution of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Now, the million-dollar question is, how will the federal government respond? Despite a brief phone call between Governor Hickenlooper from Colorado and Eric Holder, and mumblings about a potential lawsuit, the White House et al. have been relatively quiet about whether they will respect the will of the citizens of these states. 

Although the voice of the feds is but a mere whisper at this point, others are speaking loud and clear. A recent Gallup poll shows that 64% of those surveyed feel the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that pass legalization measures. While this group contains the usual supporters such as those who support marijuana legalization (87% think the feds should stay away), of note is that 43% of those who do not support marijuana legalization also do not support federal interference in state marijuana laws.

This suggests that this is not about marijuana entirely, but also about respecting the will of the citizens of those states. The United States is a mix of cultures, beliefs, priorities and lifestyles. The ability of states to regulate and oversee issues related to the health and welfare of their citizens is paramount in designing and developing programs that are tailor made to the communities they serve. When these programs are overseen by the federal government, the result is a poorly designed, non-specific, ineffective program such as DARE, which was the only drug education program funded by the federal government.

Also speaking out loudly against federal interference are the leaders of Colorado, who introduced H.R. 6606  – Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act. This bi-partisan act, introduced by Reps. Diana DeGette (D) and Mike Coffman (R) asks the feds to respect the will of the voters in Colorado and Washington on this issue.

Reps. DeGette and Coffman are not alone. Additional legislation has been introduced in the past few years aimed at preventing federal interference in state level marijuana laws. H.R. 2306 – Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011 introduced by Reps. Barney Frank (D-CA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), would remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of controlled substances, leaving individual states free to either prohibit or tax and regulate it according to their own policies. H.R. 6335 – the States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to prevent the Department of Justice from initiating civil asset forfeiture proceedings against property owners of state-sanctioned medical marijuana treatment centers based solely on marijuana-related activity.

Furthermore, the City of Oakland recently sued the federal government to prevent the closure of its largest medical marijuana dispensary, Harborside Health Center, on the grounds that it would negatively impact the local community both in terms of tax revenue and access to care.

The citizens of Washington and Colorado, the greater society of the United States, including those who are against marijuana legalization, elected officials and even entire cities are speaking loud and clear about the rights of states to make their own decisions about marijuana regulation. Leaving these decisions up to the states and their citizens allows for regulations that better reflect the needs and desires of communities and those who inhabit them.

Groucho Marx popularized the saying, “Will it play in Peoria?” in the 1920s and '30s. It means that if the city of Peoria, Illinois likes it, then everyone in America will because the citizens in Peoria are typical, average Americans. In 2012, there is no “average” American citizen, and laws should reflect the diversity and homogeneity of our society. The answer comes through loud and clear: respect the voice of the citizens concerning the regulation of marijuana.

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