The decision to decriminalize marijuana should be left to the states, not the federal government.
Last week, the federal government scorched a blunt.
Though California voters will decide Nov. 2 whether they want Proposition 19, the state’s legal initiative to make lawful the use of recreational marijuana, to become a reality, the United States Justice Department said it would take action if the result were in favor of Prop 19.
“If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder wrote in a letter to nine former chiefs of the Food and Drug Administration.
But what does that even mean?
Although U.S. laws declare the drug illegal, individual states and locales choose marijuana possession punishments, not the federal government.
This past June, the drug was decriminalized in Philadelphia after District Attorney Seth Williams approved the decrease in punishment for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana to a summary offense.
A May 4, 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer article pointed out the string of cities and states that preceded Philadelphia’s change: Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and Massachusetts all lined up to lessen the charge for marijuana possession. In Seattle, “arrests possessing small amounts of marijuana have fallen by three-quarters” since it began decriminalizing marijuana in 2003.
What is complicated, however, is the makeup of the U.S. By allowing voters in states like California to choose whether they want recreational marijuana to be a legal reality, the system is just adhering to the preferences of each nook and cranny of the states. Obviously, a change like Prop 19 is more likely to occur and pass in California, where the overall mentality is different from a small town in Pennsylvania.
Maybe some U.S. states and cities don’t want to deal with the hassle of legalizing the use of recreational marijuana, but it’s possible the federal government doesn’t want it to be legalized for this reason, either.
Is it possible the federal government would rather take legal action against California than open up another issue to systematize? The health care bill passed, but the implementation process is an organizational storm. With an ongoing war in Afghanistan and troops still occupying Iraq, the last thing the U.S. government should worry about is where legalized marijuana could be sold and whether there is anything called “public stoniness” with which a user could be charged.
The solution? Don’t make it your problem if it doesn’t have to be. Even if all 50 states decide to legalize the recreational use of marijuana – a far-fetched hypothetical – each state should then be left to systematize stipulations.
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.