Obama's other option on pot: Legalize it for everyone?
Under federal law, Uncle Sam could try to block marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado. But there's another option: President Obama could pull the US out of the marijuana wars.
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The fact that hundreds of Seattle pot smokers blew off that warning and lit up unmolested by law enforcement on Thursday, the day the law took effect, underscored how little actual enforcement power the federal government has, given that most pot busts are handled by local and state police. (Seattle police arrested no one and instead referenced the stoner movie "The Big Lebowski" in a statement that said, "The Dude abides, and says, 'Take it inside.'")Skip to next paragraph
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To be sure, there is lots of pressure on Obama from law enforcement officials for the administration to take a stern, contradictory view of what voters in Colorado and Washington have done – suggesting concern from the right that a potential legal tipping point is at hand on federal marijuana policy. Yet the political stakes are huge for Obama, who famously wrote about being a member of a pot-smoking "Choom Gang" while a teenager in Hawaii.
“It’s a sticky wicket for Obama,” Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin told the New York Times this week, adding that any aggressive move would be seen as “a slap in the face to his base right after they’ve just handed him a chance to realize his presidential dreams.”
Meanwhile, there is a viable path open for Obama to effectively end federal marijuana prohibition, though it could leave him open for criticism that's been leveled at Obama before by Republicans: that he's end-running Congress. At the same time, about 35 percent of Republicans support legalizing marijuana as a states' rights issue, according to Nov. 6 exit polling.
"In theory, the DEA, in consultation with the secretary of health and human services could move to reschedule marijuana – legally, the administration has that power," says Robert Mikos, a law professor and federalism expert at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville. "That said, making it an unscheduled substance would be a very dramatic change. If that were to happen, it would be politically easier to do in the last days of [Obama's] second term."
Would that mean America would instantly become a giant pot bazaar? Hardly.
"Ending federal oversight of marijuana would in essence just throw it back to the states, and currently we have 30-some states that criminalize simple possession and a dozen or so that have decriminalized it, and now a couple that have completely legalized it," explains Mr. Mikos. "In that case, marijuana [policy] would just become a matter of state law."