Obama’s silence on spillover of legal pot

Colorado’s legalization of marijuana has prompted a suit before the Supreme Court and a request for President Obama to take a position. Here’s why he should side with the suit by Oklahoma and Nebraska. 

Soldiers stand guard next to packages of marijuana in Tijuana, Mexico June 13. Mexican soldiers and state policemen seized about 40 tons of marijuana hidden in a house, according to Mexico's army.

During his time in office, President Obama has worked hard to prevent drug smuggling into the United States. Two months ago, the Supreme Court asked for the views of his administration on another type of trafficking of a federally banned drug: the transport of marijuana out of Colorado, where its use was made legal for adults last year, into neighboring states.

So far, the Justice Department has yet to respond to the request. The high court is deciding whether to accept a lawsuit by Nebraska and Oklahoma that seeks to prevent Colorado from promoting recreational marijuana. The two states say an increase in people bringing pot from Colorado has overwhelmed their law enforcement and created other burdens. 

The justices most likely would like to know if Mr. Obama plans to uphold federal law that classifies pot as a dangerous drug and whether he believes federal law holds supremacy over state laws, as Article VI of the Constitution states. 

The administration’s silence on these issues is puzzling. 

In 2012, the Justice Department successfully argued before the high court that the federal government, not the states, controls immigration law. And Obama has asked Latin American countries not to legalize marijuana. In addition, the US Drug Enforcement Administration declared in a report last year: “Legalization of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will come at the expense of our children and public safety.” 

Even Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who rejects the claims of the two states, says leadership from Washington on drug policy is “noticeably absent.”

Previous rulings by the Supreme Court concerning the commerce of goods within a state and between states would probably support the arguments of Nebraska and Oklahoma. Now that Colorado has set up a structure for the commercial growing and selling of recreational marijuana – in clear violation of the US Controlled Substances Act – the court would have a difficult time not accepting this case. 

The new US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has said that her “lodestar” is to uphold the rule of law. Surely she and the president do not want a huge gap between federal and state law, especially on drug trafficking. Nor do they want to violate the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. 

Before more states move to legalize recreational pot, Obama ought to tell the high court that he supports this lawsuit, as well as the majority of states that still follow federal drug laws with a ban on recreational marijuana.

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