Constitutional showdown lurks as states legalize marijuana

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

“The Rocky Mountains just got a whole lot higher,” said Matt Ferner of the Huffington Post as Colorado becomes one of two states which have passed a historic referendum calling for the legalization of marijuana which is set to become what critics are calling a “constitutional showdown.”

While the eyes of the world were locked on to the results of the tight presidential elections last week many may have not realized that Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, which will “amend the state constitution to legalize and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of marijuana for persons age 21 and older,” CNN reports, making Colorado the first state to end the prohibition of marijuana within the United States.

The last time Colorado voted on the issue was in 2006 where it saw the measure voted down.
Along the same line, CNN also reports that the state of Washington voted in support of the marijuana legalization for adults while also calling for a “25 percent tax rate imposed on the product three times: when the grower sells it to the processor, when the processor sells it to the retailer, and when the retailer sells it to the customer.”

The Huffington Post has cited that “Washington state analysts have produced the most generous estimate of how much tax revenue legal pot could produce, at nearly $2 billion over five years.”

Moreover, legalization in Colorado could “produce hundreds of new jobs, raise millions for the construction of Colorado public schools and raise around $60 million annually in combined savings and revenue for Colorado’s budget,” states a new report by the Colorado Center on Law & Policy.

Yet the third state to put the issue into vote, Oregon, voted a strong no to the ballot initiative regarding the same issue of marijuana legalization entailed in Measure 80.

In local news, Grand Rapids passed Proposal 2 for the decriminalization of marijuana use with 58.9 percent voicing their support on the issue. In essence the proposal comprised of making “marijuana possession and use a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor crime.”

Nevertheless the spotlight remains on Colorado and Washington as its outcome cites a “more apparent conflict between state and federal law,” explains Professor Mikael Pelz of Calvin College’s political science department.

In fact, Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper cautioned that voters should not “break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly,” referring to the case of the munchies where marijuana smokers desire high-fat or sweet foods.

Federal law classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic and according to the Christian Science Monitor, the U.S. Department of Justice has asserted that it will not change its enforcement policies stating, “In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time.”

Moreover, former DEA administrator Peter Bensinger has stressed that “Federal law, the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court decisions say that this cannot be done because federal law preempts state law”.

Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has affirmed that “Once these states actually try to implement these laws, we will see an effort by the feds to shut it down”.

The Colorado governor, himself a vocal opponent of the measure, stated prior to the election that “Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them,” while adding that “Amendment 64 has the potential to increase the number of children using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are OK.”

While the governor has 30 days to formally proclaim a part of the amendment towards individual behavior, the Colorado Independent has reported that “it will be several months, perhaps as long as a year, before Colorado adults 21-and-over can enjoy the legal sale of marijuana.”

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has iterated that “According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest source of drug abuse research, marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease and cognitive impairment.”

On the other hand, Mason Tvert, co-director of the Colorado pro-legalization campaign has expressed satisfaction with the outcome stating “Colorado will no longer have laws that steer people toward using alcohol, and adults will be free to use marijuana instead if that is what they prefer. And we will be better of as a society because of it.”

Tvert has also argued that “The public health costs of alcohol use overall are approximately eight times greater per person than those associated with marijuana. And alcohol use is associated with violent crime. Marijuana use is not.”

Brian Vicente, also a co-director of the campaign to regulate marijuana in Colorado has warned that “It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end.”

On the federal front the outcome has sparked a degree of uncertainty in regards to responding towards the issue. The Washington Post quotes one high-ranking law enforcement official involved in the decision who was not authorized to speak publicly as stating “I really don’t know what we’re going to do.”

On a global scale, the outcome has created substantial implications for international efforts to win the war against drugs. The Huffington Post reports that Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica states that “It has become necessary to analyze in depth the implications for public policy and health in our nations emerging from the state and local moves to allow the legal production, consumption and distribution of marijuana in some countries of our continent.”

Luis Videgaray, head of Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto’s transition team, has expressed concern regarding the outcome of state legalization pointing out that “Obviously we can’t handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status.”

In comparison to the outcome in both states is the city of Amsterdam, Netherlands where “what has been de facto legalized is only the retail sale of 5 grams (about a sixth of an ounce) or less [while] Production and wholesale distribution is still illegal, and that prohibition is enforced.”

Nonetheless hope remains for supports for marijuana legalization as is echoed by Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance who tells TIME that “There’s a possibility that the Obama administration will consider refraining from intervening to the extent they are persuaded that the state has come up with a responsible regulatory model that addresses their concerns.”

About the Author

Alden Hartopo

Alden Hartopo is the Chimes campus news co-editor for the 2013-14 school year. He is a junior from Jakarta, Indonesia studying International Relations and Economics. He believes that all forms of journalism function as an indispensable third party to facilitate communication, transparency and dialogue for students, faculty and staff.

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