Pubdate: Sun, 18 Nov 2012
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: John McKay
Note: John McKay is a visiting professor of law at Seattle University
and the former U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington.
Page: E5


Though it may seem the dust has barely settled from California's
failed effort in 2010 to legalize marijuana under Proposition 19, the
winds of change may be blowing here again, this time from the north.

Washington state voters, along with those in Colorado, have voted to
legalize marijuana for adult use and to regulate within state borders
production, transportation and sales. We plan to capture much-needed
revenue while moving from a law enforcement model to a public health
approach, emphasizing treatment and education over handcuffs and jail.

To be sure, it will take years to drive organized crime out of the
marijuana business in our state, but we are proud to have helped kick
off debate about the failures of marijuana prohibition.

As the U.S. attorney in Seattle, I helped lead federal enforcement of
marijuana laws. But like many in law enforcement, I saw firsthand the
dangerous futility in asserting criminal laws in the face of enormous
demand for marijuana and the resulting black-market profits for gangs
and drug cartels. In spite of the sometimes heroic efforts of law
enforcement, marijuana is readily available to our kids. Public safety
remains threatened by gun violence and criminal turf wars over
billions of dollars in illegal and untaxed marijuana sales. We
incarcerate minorities at higher rates than whites, even though whites
consume more marijuana.

Many now are asking the fundamental question: Do the criminal laws
prohibiting marijuana use by adults have the support of, we, the people?

Washington's ballot measure, endorsed by two former U.S. attorneys, a
former FBI agent in charge of Washington state and leaders in public
health, passed overwhelmingly.

We sounded law enforcement and public-safety themes while exposing the
dominance of the gangs and drug cartels in the vast marijuana black
market. With other sponsors and partners, we highlighted the proposed
law's tight regulation, restrictions on advertising, youth treatment
and education, and the significant revenues from taxing marijuana
sales. And we took the heat from medical marijuana activists who
opposed the law because of our tough driving-under-the-influence
standard for marijuana impairment.

Some see the new state law as an invitation to federal intervention
against those who dare to question the federal policy of blanket
criminalization. This need not be the case.

With 18 states and the District of Columbia allowing medical marijuana
and many more considering similar state legislation, President Obama
and Attorney General Eric Holder face a choice: Will they allow states
to help them drive the gangs and cartels out of the marijuana market,
or oppose them and face a continuing rebellion as more and more states
pass laws reminiscent of those presaging the repeal of alcohol

Our new law allows a year to carefully plan implementation and
regulations for this new approach to marijuana, which we expect will
involve important dialogue between state and federal officials.

The new marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado may point the way to
achieving real change in California, too - and across America.
Bringing the production and sale of marijuana under tight regulatory
control and capturing the tax revenues will directly challenge the
deadly dominance of the drug cartels and gangs.

It is now clear the states will lead the way to ending marijuana
prohibition in the United States. California should be in the
vanguard. Will it?
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