After years of foreign wars, the Patriot Act, and an unpopular healthcare mandate, voters are weary of big government proposals. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are quick to point out that they want to reduce the size and scale of government, even if their actions betray this sentiment. The idea of letting states decide many issues has gained traction, with one major exception. Marijuana.
Approximately 75% of Americans support a physician’s right to prescribe medical marijuana. Even more interestingly, is that now over half of the country supports legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana even for recreational use. Three states, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon will have residents in their states voting to enact such plans. Of course we all know the people simply passing the law may not end the ongoing feud between federal and state authorities. The problem the White House faces is that they have tried to make the case that they will not use any federal resources to circumvent state law. This leaves them with trying to apply federal law only when a dispensary is in violation of state law, as confusing as that sounds.
This approach is being challenged by 9 former heads of the DEA. Attorney General Eric Holder has not publicly indicated how the federal government would handle a situation where states operate legal marijuana sales. His silence has drawn the ire of those who feel the federal government needs to take a more definitive stand and send out a message that federal law trumps state law. Holder has spoken out on previous legalization initiatives. He indicated that he would enforce federal law in California in 2010 if residents voted to legalize marijuana. In the letter, obtained by news outlet Reuters, the group said that “To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives.”
Of course taking a stand against laws voted on and enacted by the people offers its own set of “dangerous initiatives”. No administration wants to be known as the White House crushed state laws and the will of the people. The old system has failed and while many of us understand that federal authorities have to carry out the law, there is a chance of overreaching here. A war between residents and the federal government on this issue could be one of the highest profile examples of the government ignoring the will of the people. Even those who do not support marijuana legalization may be outraged at such large scale intervention. With most Americans feeling the war on drugs is a failure, spending more money and resources to keep the antiquated approach alive could be a disaster as small government fans, fiscal hawks, civil rights groups, and medical supporters could all find themselves coming together over the issue.