Tag: Marijuana

Marijuana’s Moment

Very good, front page story in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled, “Marijuana’s Moment?

The highlight is a quote from former drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey: “The momentum to treat marijuana as a legal drug is irreversible.”  Wow.  The last time I was on a panel with him was about two years ago and it was quite evident then that the tide was turning, but I expected him to keep fighting.  According to the Post story, the former drug czar no longer accepts invitations to appear on television.  That will save me some time fact-checking him.

Here’s another excerpt from the Post story:

America has been at the edge of marijuana legalization several times during the past half-century, but never as close to mass acceptance of the drug as the nation is today.

Since the 1960s, the United States has traveled on a herky-jerky trip from hippies and head shops to grass-roots backlash by suburban parents, from enthusiastic funding of the war on drugs to a gathering consensus that the war had little effect on marijuana use. Now, for the first time, marijuana legalization is winning majority support in public opinion polls and a drug used by about 6 percent of Americans — and one-third of the nation’s high school seniors — is starting to shake off its counterculture reputation. It is winning acceptance even from some police, prosecutors and politicians.

But is this time really different? Why is the current campaign for legalization resonating when previous ones did not? Today’s leap toward legality is entwined with the financial desperation of cash-strapped states, an Internet-driven revolution in how Americans learn about marijuana and its medicinal uses, and a rising libertarian sensibility in which many liberals and conservatives alike have grown skeptical of government’s role in telling citizens how to medicate themselves.

The momentum is now obvious and it is great to see the drug warriors in retreat, but marijuana is still considered contraband in 48 states and under federal law.  There is still much work to do.  It costs money to start and win initiative campaigns, for example.  It used to be hard to raise money because donors thought it was a hopeless cause.  Now potential donors are making the mistake that legalization is “inevitable.”  The shift in public opinion helps, but it does not assure political action.  To complete the job, friends of legalization need to step up their efforts.  The next state to consider marijuana legalization–by initiative–will be Alaska this summer.

For more info on Cato’s work, go here.

Ter Beek v. City of Wyoming: Marijuana Reform Advances

Last week, the Supreme Court of Michigan rejected a legal challenge to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA).  Although limited to the state of Michigan, this precedent helps to build momentum for other states to move in the direction of marijuana legalization.

By way of background, in 2008 Michigan voters approved a state initiative that would allow medical marijuana for certain qualifying patients.  In 2010, the City of Wyoming enacted an ordinance that essentially prohibited marijuana (no medical exceptions).  John Ter Beek is a resident of the City of Wyoming and he claimed that he was a qualified patient under the state law and he argued that the state law preempted the city ordinance.  Lawyers for the City of Wyoming responded with the argument that the state law was itself invalid because it violated the supremacy clause of the Federal Constitution.  That is, since federal law (the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)) prohibits the possession of marijuana, no state can change its law to allow marijuana sales, or even possession.

The Supreme Court of Michigan unanimously sided with John Ter Beek.  Writing for the court, Justice McCormack said, “[The MMMA] provides that, under state law, certain individuals may engage in certain medical marijuana use without risk of penalty…while such use is prohibited under federal law, [MMMA] does not deny the federal government the ability to enforce that prohibition, nor does it purport to require, authorize, or excuse its violation.”  Thus, there is no violation of the federal supremacy doctrine.

Recall that after Colorado and Washington approved initiatives to legalize marijuana, some former DEA administrators argued that those initiatives were invalid under the federal supremacy clause. (One even said it was a ‘no-brainer.’)   The Obama administration declined to bring such a challenge and we will be hearing it less and less as these precedents pile up.

The Cato Institute joined an amicus brief that urged the Michigan Supreme Court to rule in Mr. Ter Beek’s favor.  More here.

DOJ Takes an Important Step on Marijuana

Today, the Dept. of Justice finally announced its first official response to the dramatic changes underway at the state level with respect to legalizing marijuana.

As a matter of law, a direct legal challenge to the state initiatives approved by voters in Colorado and Washington would have failed. A basic principle of constitutional law is that the federal government cannot “commandeer” the state legislatures and tell them what laws they should pass and what laws they can repeal. The state laws that legalize marijuana are not obstructing the FBI or DEA from enforcing federal law – and that’s the key test.

As a matter of policy, if the Obama administration is not yet ready to admit that the drug war is a failed policy, it should at least respect the prerogatives of the states that are choosing to legalize marijuana in their respective jurisdictions. Today’s announcement is an important step in that direction.

Entrepreneurs Eye Marijuana Market

Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft executive, wants to create the Starbucks of marijuana.

From CNET News:

His idea, as he explained to the Seattle Times, is to buy his own dispensaries in pot-friendly states such as Washington and Colorado and begin his long march toward a branded fortune.

His company is to be called Diego Pellicer–this a homage to Shively’s great-grandfather, who was once governor of Cebu in the Philippines.

His plan is to import from Mexico. Indeed, former president of the country Vicente Fox appeared with Shively at a Seattle news conference Thursday (video at the link).

Fox said at the news conference: “What a difference it makes to have Jamen here sitting at my side instead of Chapo Guzman.” Guzman is one of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords.

There is a problem: until the federal criminal law on marijuana is repealed, the climate is especially risky for investors in such an enterprise.

For Cato work related to the drug war, go here.

Turning the Page: How to Legalize Marijuana?

An excerpt from an op-ed by Bill Keller in today’s New York Times:

The marijuana debate has entered a new stage.  Today the most interesting and important question is no longer whether marijuana will be legalized–eventually, bit by bit, it will be–but how.

Agreed.  However, it would have been nice to hear a bit more on the horribly misguided prohibition policy that was supported by so many for so long and a more urgent plea to Obama and others in officialdom to end prohibition sooner, not later.

Tax Revenues from Legal Marijuana Overstated

There are plenty of reasons to legalize marijuana. But one that has received perhaps too much attention is tax revenue. In this Cato Daily Podcast (Subscribe! via iTunes), senior fellow Jeff Miron argues that tax revenue estimates are simply too rosy.

Miron’s 2010 report, The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition, estimates that the overall fiscal impact (including tax revenue) of legalizing marijuana nationwide could be tens of billions of dollars, the revenue boost that legalization supporters trumpet is overstated.

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.

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