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Pot Is Legal! Sorta…

Cannabis users are waiting with baited breath today, as ballot initiatives to legalize recreational use of cannabis have passed in Colorado and Washington State. Does this mean the start of the landslide? Will the DEA bring the hammer down? Will Obama step in and actually let state rights prevail? Does this mean I can go to the Mile High City and get a mile high?

We’ll see my friends, we’ll see.

washington marijuana colorado The official stance from a DEA spokesperson is that cannabis remains a prohibited substance under federal law, and it is their intention to follow their mandate and enforce that law. It seems to mean right now that the state police will leave you alone, but the DEA will not. Where does that leave pot smokers? Nobody is really sure.

I for one would caution against too much premature celebration. A “yes” on the ballot initiatives are a far cry from victory in entirety. While there are no doubt a lot of people dancing about joyfully with Bob Marley blaring in the background, I am hesitant to embrace the idea that this means victory against prohibition. The DEA has been raiding medical marijuana dispensaries which are perfectly legal under state law. These are facilities which require you to show doctor approved permission before you buy cannabis products, and even with such regulation the DEA has shown no mercy. It is a tense time for cannabis users.

Prohibition begins and ends in America. Ultimately, without the U.S. State Department bringing pressure to bear on foreign governments, there may have already been such initiatives in other nations. The former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, had made statements leaning towards decriminalization in the 90’s but the U.S. Ambassador phoned up and put the kibosh on that rather quickly. The world’s premiere military and economic power is calling the shots, so where we go from here is entirely up to them.

Obama does not have a sterling record on this front either. His hypocrisy on the subject of cannabis consumption is absolutely epic, with his own history enjoying the herb now well-known, he still adopts the stance that it should be illegal. Why is that Mr. President? It’s okay for him to spend years “intercepting” the joint as it gets passed around, but the rest of us should be thrown in a cell for doing the same. That’s just arrogant.

The man himself has not yet made a public statement about the legalization in WA and CO, and I personally am waiting to see how he will react, if at all. He seems to be content to let the barking dogs at the DEA do the talking on this front, and their statements are ominous and troubling. Even the governor of Colorado is dismissive and insulting. Read for yourself. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”

That’s a fairly derogatory stance to take considering that the voters of his state just shouted a collective “yes” for cannabis use. It shows me that the internal dialogue amongst government officials hasn’t changed one bit. Now they are running around trying to find ways to deal with this situation as it plays out. I think that they’re trying to figure out how to crush this and still spin it into a positive.

There is still a lot of legal framework to be sorted out as well. We don’t know what kind of regulation will be brought in. We don’t know under what circumstances it will be sold, what sort of taxation will be involved. We don’t know far more than we could possibly know at this point, so I urge people to avoid hubris and be patient. The U.S. Federal Government is a tyrannical organization, giving only lip-service to the rights of states and individuals, and so they may well react in a way that cannabis users find unfavorable.

There are some specific details regarding the legalization that are troubling. For example, in Washington State while cannabis consumption will be legal, it will also still be legal for employers to test employees’ and fire them if they test positive for cannabis. That means that a culture of persecution against cannabis users will remain unchecked, while a false sense of security is imparted. There is also the issue of driving under the influence of cannabis, with completely arbitrary watermarks of “intoxication” set, leaving law enforcement open to roadside testing and the revocation of driving privileges on the basis of cannabis use.

How is it legal if both state and corporation still have the right to discriminate against you on the basis of your usage?

There are other more complicated matters to address as well, and it may be that the ultimate say is given to the Supreme Court. Selling marijuana is illegal federally, and depositing those funds in a bank account would technically be a violation of federal banking law. Where does that leave the now state-sanctioned purveyors of cannabis? Again, nobody is really sure. Complicated federal court cases could drag out for years, and if the opponents of cannabis have more money to spend on lawyers than the advocates, it could all end up with a return to the status quo. It particularly doesn’t help that the bad guys in this case happen to be the U.S. Federal Government. They’ve got deep pockets, even when they are broke.

In case you’re wondering, Supreme Court precedent states that the federal government trumps state governments, so such a court battle would be uphill at best.

It’s a baby step forward, and one that could easily be pushed back. Just because there is a law on the books permitting cannabis consumption on a state level doesn’t mean you couldn’t find yourself in federal prison for doing it. It’s an odd state of affairs, and the way it plays out will be seen in the coming months. I’d like to think this is the light at the end of the tunnel, but far too often when it involves the American government that light is just another train.

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