Recent statements by Attorney General Eric Holder and by drug czar Gil Kerlikowske may signal an impending crackdown on the experiments with partial legalization of recreational marijuana for which solid majorities of the Colorado and Washington State electorates voted last November.
“When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children,” Holder told a House appropriations subcommittee. “We are certainly going to enforce federal law.”
At a National Press Club luncheon, Kerlikowske asserted that “neither a state nor the executive branch can nullify” federal anti-marijuana laws, adding that “using marijuana has public health consequences.”
But the impact on children, and the public health consequences, are likely to be bad if the Obama administration cracks down on the hundreds of marijuana businesses that Colorado and Washington are preparing to license, regulate, and tax.
Such action would likely backfire — warping both federal and state drug policy for years to come — by aggravating the harm to public health, especially to kids, and the leakage of marijuana across state lines that the administration and other opponents of legalization want to prevent.
How would a crackdown backfire? By producing — immediately in Colorado, and eventually in other states — an atomized, anarchic, state-legalized but unregulated marijuana market that federal drug enforcers lack the manpower to contain and the legal power to force the states to contain.
Consider how a federal effort to abort the state experiment would unfold in Colorado, where the voters (unlike those in Washington) chose to create both a state-regulated marijuana industry and another, largely unregulated, one.