The Beginning Of The End Of The War On Weed

[ Posted Thursday, August 29th, 2013 – 13:51 UTC ]

It's a new day in America.

Today will be marked in history as the day the federal government finally realized that their 80-90 year war on a plant is not only ineffective and counterproductive, but also a gigantic waste of money and everyone's time.

Attorney General Eric Holder -- the nation's chief law enforcement officer -- announced today that the Department of Justice would not challenge state laws enacted by popular vote in the states of Washington and Colorado which legalized cannabis for adult recreational use. The federal government will not sue the states in court to prevent the laws from fully being implemented, and they will not waste their resources prosecuting people in these states who follow the rules. In addition, Holder informed all 50 of the state-level attorneys general that the Justice Department was issuing new guidelines for how federal prosecutors will prioritize enforcement efforts in the forty percent of the country where medicinal marijuana is now legal at the state level.

While this is not exactly the ratification of the 21st Amendment, it is indeed a historic turning point in the Marihuana Prohibition Era (using the original anti-cannabis terminology, to give the period the full century-old flavor it truly deserves). This is the first significant step the federal government has taken in almost a century which loosens rather than tightens federal law-enforcement efforts towards cannabis. While marijuana will remain illegal under federal law -- under the strictest rules of any "controlled dangerous substance" -- Holder has announced that in states where the citizens have plainly shown at the ballot box their disapproval of such federal laws, the federal government will now back off. Thus begins an end to the insanity of the War On Weed. Think "insanity" is too strong a term? Consider the fact that under federal law marijuana is considered more dangerous than the following: cocaine, opium, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and PCP. That is, truly, nothing short of insanity.

Holder also seems to be backing off on the alarming intensity and harshness the Justice Department has recently exhibited towards legal medicinal marijuana providers. He seems to be indicating that the feds will now allow businesses who are strictly following state law to enjoy basic American civic amenities (such as having a bank account and being able to rent a building) without fear of being busted by federal cops because they are "making too much money." Imagine if such criteria were used against a mainstream drug company like Pfizer! Holder is instructing his U.S. Attorneys that just making money selling state-legal medical marijuana is not enough to prosecute them, absent any other federally-illegal activity. This is an enormous breakthrough, if Holder truly does follow through on it, because there have been some insane abuses taking place in the 20 states which have legalized medicinal marijuana by local federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Hopefully, these raids will now end.

Holder spelled out the new federal guidelines in a memo sent to all his U.S. Attorneys. Today's Huffington Post highlights what these priorities will now be (the article also provides the full text of the memo, at the bottom):

The memo also outlines eight priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws. According to the guidance, DOJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:

  • the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
  • the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  • drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
  • preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

Which all sounds pretty reasonable, in fact. Which is why it's so historic -- who among us ever thought we'd use the phrase "federal marijuana policy now sounds pretty reasonable"?

Prosecutors should concentrate on most of these goals, because of their reasonableness. If you sell cannabis to minors, you will be targeted -- just like "sting" operations now target liquor stores for sales to minors. While "criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels" could be casting too wide a net, the intent is a good one, for now -- target drug lords operating illegally. The key is how you define "illegally" and "criminal." If this means "illegally, under state law" then there will be no problem. While recreational marijuana will be legal in Colorado and Washington, it won't be in the other 48 states, so the feds will attempt some sort of crackdown on people taking it out of these two states. OK, that's their prerogative, as long as they leave Colorado and Washington alone. Selling crack or crystal meth at your marijuana store? Well then, you're a target for the feds. Again, as it should be. While "violence" is an appropriate target in the production of marijuana, the "use of firearms" could be problematic. If defined as "unnecessarily shooting a weapon" then it makes a certain degree of sense, but if defined as "hiring an armed guard to protect a shipment worth tens of thousands of dollars," well then, I can see the NRA having something to say about the constitutionality of the situation. Drugged driving is a worthy thing to target, however the "exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use" seems unnecessarily vague and open to abuse by rogue prosecutors. And finally, growing on public lands (like a National Forest or Park) is again a reasonable thing for the feds to target -- after all, they own the land. You will be able to get Rocky Mountain high, just not in Rocky Mountain National Park.

So while there is plenty to be skeptical about in the wording, the memo is remarkable for what it doesn't say. It doesn't list as any sort of priority "businesses who follow state laws and make a lot of money" -- which is an enormous turnaround, right there. It doesn't say that U.S. Attorneys should threaten law enforcement officers (all the way up to state attorneys general) with 20-year "major drug trafficker" prison sentences merely for attempting to implement laws which the voters have passed -- which has indeed happened, and (hopefully) no longer will. It doesn't say that landlords who rent to marijuana businesses should be likewise targeted -- which, again, happens with alarming frequency.

This is just a first step. Hopefully, it will be just one of many future steps towards reasonableness by the Department of Justice. Earlier this month, Holder announced he would be changing the "mandatory minimums" which have locked up so many minorities in the Drug War, for so long. This was also a welcome step, since the War On Weed in particular has had the overtones of racism from the very beginning. Barack Obama's never going to run for office again, so he is freed up in his second term from fears of how voters will react. Eric Holder has already served one term as Attorney General, and can step down any time he feels like it. The political risks are about as minimal as you can get right now, for both of them. It took a long time, historically, to get to this point; and indeed it took Eric Holder almost ten full months to announce this new policy after Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana in their states. Some of us have been calling for a saner marijuana policy from the Obama administration since two months after Obama took office, in fact.

But now the waiting is over. Marijuana enthusiasts in Colorado and Washington and sick people in 18 other states and the District of Columbia can now breathe a little deeper (if you'll pardon the pun). Because while the Marihuana Prohibition Era is not over yet, and while marijuana remains technically illegal at the federal level, and while marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I dangerous controlled substance, and while individual federal prosecutors will no doubt overstep the new boundaries -- it's still a new day in America. Eric Holder has signaled a retreat in the War On Weed -- the biggest such retreat since the intensification of the drug war hysteria in the 1980s. The war isn't over, but two states just scored immense victories which are going to signal the beginning of the end. The next generation of Americans will one day look back at the War On Weed the same way we look back on Prohibition today. And when they study the history, August 29, 2013 may be marked as the most important turning point.

I could even see "420" eventually being replaced with "829," personally.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “The Beginning Of The End Of The War On Weed”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, everyone just knew I'd be writing this article today, right?


    Because I now have some time on my hands, I'm now going to go back and answer some comments from the previous week.


  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, caught up on comment-answering back to last Friday...

    Sorry for the delay!


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Holder has announced that in states where the citizens have plainly shown at the ballot box their disapproval of such federal laws, the federal government will now back off.

    So, it seems to me, CW that you are saying you are advocating state rights over the federal government..

    How positively Tea Party of you!! :D

  4. [4] 
    db wrote:

    "preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property."

    But allowing firearms.


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Hey, I have friends in the "Tenther" movement...

    You should be asking the right wingers who love states' rights what they think about this, too, though.



  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    I really don't know many Right Wingers and the ones I DO know aren't, shall we say, er.... politically astute.. :D

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