Oh, the Choomanity! President Obama, the nation's most famous former pot smoker, is reportedly considering taking legal action against Colorado and Washington that could overturn the states' new marijuana legalization laws. The new state rules, which allow those over 21 to possess up to an ounce of pot, are on a collision course with the Controlled Substances Act, the federal statute that outlaws marijuana use. Ever since the state laws were passed by popular vote on Election Day, the White House and the Justice Department have been "holding high-level meetings" to figure out a response, says Charlie Savage at The New York Times:
One option is to sue the states on the grounds that any effort to regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law. Should the Justice Department prevail, it would raise the possibility of striking down the entire initiatives on the theory that voters would not have approved legalizing the drug without tight regulations and licensing similar to controls on hard alcohol.
The irony of the situation is almost too cruel to fathom. The leader of the now-immortal Choom Gang — who in his youth smoked "sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds," hot-boxed his car so thoroughly that he could take "roof hits," and coined the joint-snatching term "Intercepted!" — is now on the verge of becoming the buzzkiller-in-chief. And the timing of the Times report couldn't be worse, coming only a day after Washington's new marijuana law went into effect. The bongs had only just come out of the shadows, and pot aficionados were still high on the the sweet smell of freedom, when President Obummer entered the picture.
Of course, it's not just Obama's image as a pretty chill guy that would suffer. He could end up paying a heavy political price for cracking down on pot. "Such a response would raise political complications for President Obama because marijuana legalization is popular among liberal Democrats who just turned out to re-elect him," says Savage.
Supporters of the state laws also say a crackdown would be plain foolish. On a policy level, these new rules are tools to raise badly needed revenue and tackle the so-called War on Drugs from a different angle, says Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone:
The new laws also compel Colorado and Washington to license private businesses to cultivate and sell pot, and to levy taxes on the proceeds. Together, the two states expect to reap some $600 million annually in marijuana revenues for schools, roads, and other projects. The only losers, in fact, will be the Mexican drug lords, who currently supply as much as two-thirds of America's pot.
In the end, though, the controversy comes down to an unavoidable conflict between state and federal laws. An easy (if unlikely) way to resolve the dilemma would be to legalize marijuana across the country. Naturally, there's already a White House petition for that.