Feds To Sue To Stop Amendment 64?

A New York Times story today is making supporters of the recently-passed Amendment 64, the initiative legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in Colorado, freshly nervous:

Senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.

Even as marijuana legalization supporters are celebrating their victories in the two states, the Obama administration has been holding high-level meetings since the election to debate the response of federal law enforcement agencies to the decriminalization efforts.

Marijuana use in both states continues to be illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. One option is to sue the states on the grounds that any effort to regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law. Should the Justice Department prevail, it would raise the possibility of striking down the entire initiatives on the theory that voters would not have approved legalizing the drug without tight regulations and licensing similar to controls on hard alcohol…

This story doesn’t say that the Obama administration has made a decision to sue to stop Amendment 64–it seems to be more about weighing options, and heavy lobbying from law enforcement interests no doubt happy to encourage the prospect of a crackdown. On the other hand, as this story explains well, Obama faces political problems from such a crackdown, since legalization is most popular among liberal base Democrats.

Despite the consternation this story is stoking among legalization supporters, we would advise patience–this article describes meetings that one should fully expect are taking place, since understanding the range of options is the Justice Department’s job. It doesn’t necessarily mean the will of Colorado and Washington voters is about to be thwarted from above, or that the provisions regarding personal possession versus commercial regulation won’t be dealt with separately. Amendment 64 was written to be “severable,” making it harder (at least in theory) to invalidate the entire amendment if one section is struck down.

15 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ohwilleke says:

    would make life a whole lot easier for everyone from the President and Justice Department (including the U.S. Attorney), to law enforcement officials at all levels, to state and local legislative and regulatory officials, to people contemplating starting legalization related businesses, to individual users who have the specter of an unlikely federal prosecution looming.

    In terms of federal spending, it is far cheaper to assent to state legalizations than it is to pay a lot of people to figure out how to fight Amendment 64 until they finally decide to give up.

  2. Meiner49erMeiner49er says:

    Hate to offer up a harsh bud on a Friday afternoon, but I’m not sure it matters much one way or t’other.  

    Hick  has “higher” aspirations and will cooperate with DOJ to make sure 64 gets snuffed out in the middle somehow.

    At best he gets the VP nod for it.  At worst, he suffers Owens’ fate and his national political ambitions go up in smoke.  

    Either way, my bet is he’s likely to end up wishing he could light up, legally.

  3. Albert J. Nock says:

    Obama is going to send his voters up the river.  

    Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party believe in everything you Democrats believe in EXCEPT stealing and redistributing other people’s money.  If you people could just give up thievery and join us Libertarians, we would have it made!

  4. caroman says:

    USA Today reports on a poll that shows almost a 2-1 view that the federal government should not enforce marijuana laws in states that legalized pot.

    70% of Baby Boomers (ages 50 – 64) and 69% of those under 30 say the Feds should chill out.

    The Obama Administration would have to be drunk to fight those numbers.

  5. CaninesCanines says:


    Now, a coalition of business groups opposed to legalization is not only asking for clarification, but is urging the federal government to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, which maintains that smoking marijuana is against the law.

    The coalition is made up of twenty business organizations across the state, mainly chambers of commerce and economic development corporations…

    They claim to respect the will of the voters, but are asking the federal government to crack down:

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