It's legal in Colorado, man

Elika Roohi/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
November 13, 2012

Measures for pot legalization have been on ballots since 1972, when the question was first put up to the popular vote. Voters never went for it, until last Tuesday in Colorado and the state of Washington.

Amendment 64 in Colorado allows individuals over 21 to buy up to an ounce of marijuana at regulated retail stores.  Initiative 502 in Washington allows individuals over 21 to buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana or small amounts of marijuana-infused products.  Both initiatives passed on Nov. 6.  So now what?

First of all, federal law superceeds state law and under federal law marijuana is still illegal.  As the Drug Enforcement Administration reminded everyone on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the 1970 Controlled Substance Act hasn’t changed, even if state law has.  However, there’s a large gray area where federal officials don’t have the time or the man-power to go after every kid sharing a joint in the basement.

Navigating state and federal law will take a lot of time.  According to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, it might be too soon to “break out the Cheetos.”  It all comes down to what the current administration’s justice department will do.

No one is sure what that is yet.  According to CNN, University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin says something has got to give.  “It simply can’t go on the way it is,” Kamin said. “It can’t be a big industry and a Federal crime at the same time.”

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 17 states and it is still legal under federal law.  The Justice Department has shut down at least 600 marijuana shops in California since last October.  If anything, “history isn’t encouraging for pot smokers,” according to Slate columnist Emily Bazelon.

The Justice Department has yet to release a statement on the matter, but whatever they end up doing, they can’t force Washington or Colorado to make pot illegal again under the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, in Alaska pot has been legal-ish since 1975 in the same unclear way that Colorado and Washington seem to be headed.

In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court case Ravin v. Alaska extended personal privacy protections so far as to include possession and use of marijuana in an individual’s home.  In 2006, the state passed a law making possession of any amount of marijuana illegal.  And then the courts found that that the law violated the citizen privacy rights upheld by Ravin v. Alaska.

Honestly, I don’t understand it either.  But Alaska has a seemingly well-deserved reputation as being lenient on stoners.

Are Colorado and Washington headed in the same direction as Alaska?  With conflicting laws and ideas about pot legalization?

Probably.  But hopefully last Tuesday’s election will open up a larger debate to reconcile some of these ideas.

It’s estimated that illegal marijuana is a $36 billion a year industry and legal marijuana could be a $100 billion a year industry, according to the Huffington Post.  In the end, if America becomes Amsterdam–which doesn’t seem likely–the real winners will be the drug companies.  It’s taken decades to stigmatize smoking as something unproductive and unhealthy, and now drug companies can start fresh with a new drug to advertise to potential users.  At least in Colorado and Washington.

Until the federal government decides how it feels about marijuana, there’s not much anyone can do.  But finally pot legalization has proved itself to be an issue that should be seriously discussed.  Washington and Colorado have voted themselves into experimental ground, and it will be interesting to see where they go.

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