Marijuana: Obama’s legalization dilemma

Voters in Colorado and Washington have approved the recreational use of marijuana, but it remains illegal under federal law.

As a teenager, Barack Obama not only inhaled when he smoked marijuana—he was the leader of a group of heavy-duty stoners called “the Choom Gang.” But as president, said Charlie Savage in The New York Times, Obama is The Man, charged with enforcing federal law. That presents him with an interesting conundrum, now that voters in Colorado and Washington have approved the recreational use of marijuana in those states. Marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Rather than surrender its authority, Obama’s Justice Department is considering busting a few “low-level marijuana users” in Colorado and Washington so as to create a court challenge, knowing that “federal law trumps the state one.” For Obama, victory would be politically risky, said Patrik Jonsson in CSMonitor.com. Striking down those state laws would be seen as the height of hypocrisy and a betrayal of the millions of pro-weed Millennials who voted for him.

Voters have been sold a bill of goods on this issue, said Kevin Sabet in CNN.com. Supporters tell us they will regulate and control marijuana use, even among teens. But we face the prospect of a re-energized Big Tobacco moving into this lucrative market and “commercializing and promoting marijuana to kids.” New “vice taxes” on pot, we’re told, will offset society’s costs. But the $40 billion we get annually from cigarette and alcohol users is but a tenth of the losses in “productivity, premature illness, accidents, and death.” Legalizing pot would also do nothing to curb the Mexican drug cartels, said Keegan Hamilton in TheAtlantic.com. The cartels long ago “diversified their portfolios” to include cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin, so legalized weed in two states won’t hurt them one bit.

Mr. President, this is another occasion for you to “lead from behind”—and do nothing, said Andrew Sullivan in TheDailyBeast.com. As Obama’s successful life proves, all that weed he once smoked is “no more damaging to a human being than alcohol.” Locking up adults who enjoy a joint instead of a beer defies reason. The government’s continuing war on marijuana is “racist in its enforcement, ridiculous as a matter of science, outrageous in terms of personal liberty, and inimical to federalism.” Want to see if legalizing weed will cause dire social problems? Washington and Colorado can now serve as laboratories. “Let the states figure this out.”

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