Tag: drug war

Code of the West

The legal battle between the federal government and the states over the legality of marijuana is returning to the news. Former DEA chiefs are calling on the Obama administration to crack down on the two states that recently approved referenda to legalize marijuana under state law, Colorado and Washington. Meanwhile, many other states are trying to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

On that latter point, Cato will be screening the new film Code of the West next week. This film explores the political, legal, and cultural battles over medical marijuana in Montana. Watch local policymakers grapple with the myriad issues that arise when medical marijuana becomes legal under state law for certain patients. The film also tells the story of certain growers who try to establish businesses, only to find their establishments raided by federal law enforcement agents. Join us for this film screening and the policy discussion afterward.

Registration information can be found here.

Watch the film trailer here.  More information about Code of the West here.

Obama, Barbara Walters, and Marijuana Users

In an interview with Barbara Walters, President Obama was finally asked about the dramatic legal changes underway in Colorado and Washington–the legalization of marijuana for adults under state law.  The President said that the federal government has “higher priorities” than arresting marijuana users.   At first glance, that may seem like a good answer for those supportive of drug policy reform, but it is not.

Here’s why: Arresting marijuana users has never been a high priority of federal law enforcement.  There are about 800,000 marijuana arrests in the U.S. every year.  The feds are responsible for about 1% of those.  The feds rely on state and local police to conduct domestic drug investigations–especially users with small amounts.  The feds want to focus their resources on the big international cartels operating outside the country.  Of course, the DEA also gets involved with the larger smuggling operations inside the U.S.  In California, where marijuana is quasi-legal for users (in a de facto sense) federal prosecutors focus on the supply side–raiding, harassing, arresting.  The feds bypass  juries by using civil asset forfeiture laws against persons opening dispensaries.

Against that background, listen again to Obama: My administration has higher priorities than going after marijuana users.  Hmm.  That’s just another way of saying “nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned.”    I expect Attorney General Eric Holder to announce a legal challenge to the Colorado and Washington initiatives sometime soon.  And federal raids will begin soon also.

Cato hosted an event this week on some of the issues related to such a federal legal challenge.  Speakers included, former DEA chief, Asa Huthinson and Robert Mikos, Vanderbilt law professor and author of a new Cato study about the interplay between federal and state law with respect to marijuana.

Amendment 64 Becomes Law in Colorado

Yesterday Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order that essentially certifies the election results in that state–and that means Amendment 64, which legalizes marijuana possession for adults, is now a part of the Colorado state constitution.  Following  Washington state, Colorado is now the second state to change its law so as to make the recreational use of marijuana legal for adults. 

This means we now have a delicate legal situation where marijuana is legal under state law, but illegal under federal law.  The Justice Department is reportedly considering a legal challenge to the new state laws based upon the legal doctrine of federal supremacy.   In a new Cato paper, entitled “On the Limits of Federal Supremacy,”  law professor Robert Mikos argues that such state laws, and most related regulations, have not been–and cannot be–preempted by the federal government.  Here’s the executive summary:

The American Constitution divides governmental power between the federal government and several state governments. In the event of a conflict between federal law and state law, the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) makes it clear that state policies are subordinate to federal policies. There are, however, important limitations to the doctrine of federal supremacy.

First, there must be a valid constitutional basis for the federal policy in question. The powers of the federal government are limited and enumerated, and the president and Congress must always respect the boundary lines that the Constitution created.

Second, even in the areas where federal authorities may enact law, they may not use the states as instruments of federal governance. This anticommandeering limitation upon federal power is often overlooked, but the Supreme Court will enforce that principle in appropriate cases.

Using medical marijuana as a case study, I examine how the anti-commandeering principle protects the states’ prerogative to legalize activity that Congress bans. The federal government has banned marijuana outright, and for years federal officials have lobbied against local efforts to legalize medical use of the drug. However, an ever-growing number of states have adopted legalization measures. I explain why these state laws, and most related regulations, have not been—and cannot be—preempted by Congress. I also develop a new framework for analyzing the boundary between the proper exercise of federal supremacy and prohibited commandeering.

Although I focus on medical marijuana, the legal analysis applies to any issue pitting permissive state laws against restrictive federal regulations. Recent referenda in Colorado and Washington that legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults will likely prompt federal officials to respond by touting the supremacy of the federal ban and challenging the constitutionality of state efforts at legalization. Such state reforms should carry the day in the event of such a legal challenge.

Tomorrow, Professor Mikos will be addressing this subject here at a policy forum.  Former DEA head, Asa Hutchinson, will also be here to offer his thoughts on the interplay between state and federal law and the future direction of drug policy.

Obama Mulling Response to State Marijuana Initiatives

From today’s New York Times:

Senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.

Even as marijuana legalization supporters are celebrating their victories in the two states, the Obama administration has been holding high-level meetings since the election to debate the response of federal law enforcement agencies to the decriminalization efforts.

Next week Cato will host a policy forum to explore the legal doctrine of federal supremacy, state prerogatives under the Tenth Amendment, and other issues related to drug policy reform. Asa Hutchinson, former head of the DEA and Vanderbilt University law professor Robert Mikos will be making presentations. Event details are here.

Richard Branson has some thoughts here. And check out the new film, “Breaking the Taboo.”

Mexico’s Drug War and U.S. Policy: New Cato Video

Since President Felipe Calderon took office six years ago and decided to aggressively fight Mexican drug cartels, Mexico has seen some 60,000 drug-war-related deaths. That’s “more than the number of Americans who died in Vietnam, but in a country with one third the U.S. population,” says former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda.

In a new Cato video released during President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington this week, Ted Carpenter explains why the U.S.-backed drug war has been a disaster and urges an end to prohibition. For an in-depth look at the issue, read Ted’s new book, The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America.

You can read more Cato scholars’ writings on the War on Drugs here.

Indiana Police Chief: Legalize Marijuana

From WFPL News:

The leader of Indiana State Police says he has no objection to legislative efforts to ease penalties for marijuana possession in the Hoosier State.

When asked about the drug in a budget committee meeting, ISP Superintendent Paul Whitesell said he’s spent some 40 years trying to enforce various marijuana laws.

“It’s here, it’s going to stay, there’s an awful lot of victimization that goes with it. If it were up to me, I do believe I would legalize it and tax it, particularly in sight of the fact that several other states have now come to that part of their legal system as well,” he said.

There is a wonderful organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) that keeps growing  and growing.

Historic Moment for Drug Policy Reform Movement

The momentum for drug policy reform continues to gather strength and is now undeniable.  Voters in two states–Colorado and Washington–have now approved marijuana legalization under state law.  This represents a historic moment in the drug reform movement.  Rejecting the hard-line ‘lock’em up’ mentality that has dominated U.S. drug policy, two states have now broken rank and will now try a new approach.

Legalization means adult marijuana users should not be treated like criminals.  Legalization means police should spend their time more wisely–focusing on violent offenders, not people who choose to grow and use marijuana.  Federal law remains in effect, but the Obama administration should allow the states to chart another path.  One of the benefits of our federal system is that states can experiment with different policies so we can learn what works well and what does not. 

It should also be noted that voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved an initiative that would legalize medical marijuana, which continues the liberalization trend in that area.  Several cities in Michigan–most notably Detroit–voted to decriminalize marijuana for adults.

From the west coast to the east coast, the political climate for drug policy reform is getting better and better.

For related Cato work, go here and here.