The Monitor's View

Mr. Obama, just say no to state ballots on marijuana legalization

The silence of America's top law enforcement officials – President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder – on three state votes to legalize marijuana is puzzling. If any of the measures pass, it will cause a constitutional crisis as well as a dangerous jump in pot use.

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    Chicago police enter an area where authorities are busy chopping down 6-to-8-foot tall marijuana plants that they found growing on a chunk of land the size of two football fields on the city's South Side Oct. 3. Officers on routine patrol in a police helicopter spotted the crop.
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Voters in three states face ballot measures Nov. 6 on whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. If any one of them passes, it will be a historic first for the United States. But it will also lead to clear violations of federal law that has long banned pot – for any use.

To avoid a constitutional crisis for whoever occupies the White House next year, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder must speak out now – as law enforcement officers – to influence voters in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.

An ounce of political prevention would be worth a pound of legal cures later.

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Their silence as federal officials is difficult to understand. In the last two years, the Justice Department has been tough in many of the 17 states that now allow marijuana for alleged medical use – especially in California, where the rules on pot dispensaries are weak and the will of state leaders to fix them even weaker.

The White House’s reticence is also puzzling because Mr. Obama was not shy about taking on Arizona over its immigration law. His inconsistency on these two fronts with states suggests to some a political desire to push pro-pot young people to the polls, especially in the pivotal state of Colorado. If true, that also suggests a political expediency at the expense of moral integrity.

Leading experts say legalizing marijuana in the US would double or triple the number of people with a dangerous dependency on pot to 12 million. And the amount of time that pot users would be intoxicated would also double or triple, with an estimated $100 billion loss of worker productivity to the economy. That figure far surpasses the money spent on anti-marijuana enforcement.

Despite federal actions against medical-marijuana abuses, sometimes words can speak louder. Obama, himself a reformed pot user, should simply state his disapproval at passage of these ballot initiatives. (Mitt Romney has said he will rigorously enforce the federal ban.)

Marijuana use need never become as pervasive as that of alcohol if government leaders head off the legalization movement.

Obama has plenty of moral backup. Nine former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration asked Mr. Holder in a letter last month to publicly oppose the ballot initiatives. “To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives,” they wrote.

Passage of the three measures – Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington – could lead to massive violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act – and not just by ordinary citizens who would start to use pot openly, but state workers who assist in growing and selling it.

Such widespread lawlessness would be on the scale of the current population of illegal immigrants, a problem that corrodes the rule of law and creates deep political divisions among Americans.

As difficult as it might be, the president need only spend a minute at a microphone in coming days stating his opposition to legalizing pot.

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