The Feds Need to Address Marijuana Legalization, and Fast

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

We’re well into the first year that marijuana has been legalized in at least part of the country, and the world has yet to implode on itself. We haven’t witnessed the outbreak of horrible consequences assured by many on the side of holding on to prohibition, but we also haven’t seen all of the benefits promised either, to be fair. Of course, there’s still plenty of time for things to go either way.

However, it does appear that the pros have outweighed the cons in both Colorado and Washington. There have been jobs created. People are no longer being arrested or fined for possession, and both states have raked in millions in tax revenues. All of this, of course, has happened without much input from the federal government. What we have is a classic showdown between state and federal law; one which has outlawed marijuana in nearly all shapes and forms, and two jurisdictions that have allowed marijuana use for consenting adults over 21 years of age, and a number of other states with operating medical cannabis industries.

So far, the feds haven’t taken any action. No one knew if the DEA and attorney general’s office were going to put an end to things, but instead, they have let the states have their experiment. The problem? The experiment looks like it has escaped the containment field, and is about to kick down the door of the laboratory.

There are a handful of states and jurisdictions looking to legalize marijuana this year and in 2016. Oregon, Alaska, and California are among them, but one sticks out in a very big way.

Washington, D.C.

That’s right, marijuana legalization is about to hit the nation’s capitol, and the feds have so far not even addressed it. So why is that a big deal? Well, it’s kind of hard to keep up with the justification for keeping marijuana illegal if voters themselves have opted to end prohibition in the very jurisdiction that makes our federal laws. How could any states take prohibition laws seriously if that were to happen? Obviously, the issue is going to need to be addressed on the federal level.

It’s going to need to happen fast, however, as polls indicate that D.C. voters are poised to vote in favor of legalization by a 2-to-1 margin, according to The Washington Post. Initiative 71, the legalization bill that is actually on the ballot, would face some additional hurdles even if it is passed.

National Journal lays some of these hurdles out, including the ability of the D.C. City Council to pass an emergency bill to block legalization, and even congressional efforts can do the same. Maryland representative Andy Harris told National Journal that he would do just that if D.C. voters opt to pass the bill.

“The federal government should enforce federal law regardless of whether local citizens try to legalize marijuana,” he said. “If legalization passes, I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action, so that drug use among teens does not increase.”

So it does appear that Congress will step in if D.C. votes to legalize. Of course, teen drug use appears to have gone down in the wake of legalization, but that’s a separate argument altogether.

When the federal government finally does decide to weigh in, what will the input be? It’s difficult to tell, but it’s hard to think that the DEA will go sweeping across the country, shutting down new legal retail stores, farming operations and collective gardens. The cost to taxpayers, not to mention the amount of manpower needed to do so would be astronomical, and there would be no real tangible benefit. Would it stop people from getting their hands on marijuana? No. It would simply send consumers back to the black market.

So should they give legalization their blessing? Many people certainly wish they would, but with such a divided Congress, could there even really be a solid, cohesive answer that people would be able to take seriously? Or would the president or attorney general address the situation, only to be followed up by opponents promising to undo and reverse any decision that is made?

We’ll just have to wait and see. But federal recognition, either one way or the other, will come soon.

The feds may not be eager to address marijuana just yet. But voters around the country, and particularly in Washington D.C., may force them to.

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