California, Crime, Department of Justice, Drudge Report, Drugs, Election 2012, Eric Holder, Food, Marijuana, Politics

The Greatest Single Election Quote Ever

I’m sure there will be other contenders for the honor teased in the title, but I’m having a hard time thinking of one. Last night, voters went to the polls throughout the country and made their voices heard through the time-honored practice of waiting six hours in line until 1:30 a.m. As the results trickled in, candidates, elected officials, and pundits tossed out a number of pithy reactions, but one takes the cake.

Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado responded to the state’s passage of a ballot measure legalizing marijuana with this gem:

Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.

Now I think Hickenlooper is criminally underselling Bugles, but this is pretty amazing. That’s a sitting United States governor tossing out a rejected line from a Cheech and Chong movie. I love modernity.

But why does Hickenlooper think we should hold on to our munchies?

Well, Hickenlooper’s caution relates to the fact that the federal government continues to prosecute marijuana cases. In Gonzalez v. Raich, the Supreme Court held that the federal government could still prosecute its drug laws in opposition to state law because the Commerce Clause authorized Congress to bar the cultivation and use of medical marijuana in California because even limiting production and use to that state would affect the interstate market. Which is true, because merely taking Snoop out of the illicit marijuana market would have a massive effect on national supply and demand.

Attorney General Eric Holder declared as follows:

It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.

You’d think Kumar would have been able to convince Obama to lay off.

That sounded all well and good for California until last year, when the federal government aggressively shut down several medical marijuana dispensaries even though they were fully legal under California law. The feds claimed these dispensaries were intentionally skirting California’s “medical” limitation and furthering illicit trade. It was a harsh blow that cost President Obama the support of the all-important “cartoonists bitching about cubicles” vote.

And that crackdown only went after medical marijuana facilities. Colorado, along with Washington, have smooth legalized pot. This is a much more extreme slap in the face of the federal drug policy than laws limiting distribution to those with serious medical conditions. Or at least those who told their doctor that they suffer from “anxiety.”

So the question, highlighted by Governor Hickenlooper, is whether or not the Justice Department will blow off Colorado and Washington voters to uphold federal drug policy. The experience of California would suggest a “tough on pot” response. But, the new laws may finally break the back of the Justice Department.

Enforcing federal drug laws requires the cooperation of state and local officials with more “boots on the ground.” Without police departments and sheriffs cooperating with the federal government, already strapped federal agencies will have to work exponentially harder if they want to make a dent in Colorado and Washington. Add to that Massachusetts legalizing medical marijuana, and the federal government may start to recognize a losing hand.

Even if the federal government wanted to fight back against marijuana, it would only be able to get large-scale targets like stores and commercial crops. But in Colorado (but not Washington), the law allows users to grow plants at home. Without local law enforcement, the DEA is going to have an impossible task shutting down every home with a couple plants in the garage.

Perhaps that’s the ultimate role of these ballot measures — creating a critical mass for legalization to cripple enforcement efforts. In the meantime, despite Hickenlooper’s protestations, Colorado and Washington retailers should probably stock up on Cheetos and Goldfish. And Bugles.

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