Pubdate: Sat, 09 Mar 2013
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2013 the Guardian
Author: Naomi Wolf, the Guardian
Page: 9A


TWO American states have taken the plunge: Colorado and Washington 
recently voted to decriminalise possession, if you are over 21, of 
small amounts of marijuana (although you still can't smoke it in 
public there). But the White House is warning that these state moves 
are in violation of federal law  the Controlled Substances Act  which 
the government gives notice it intends to continue to enforce.

Indeed, President Obama is thinking about more than a warning: he 
might actually sue the states, and any others that follow Colorado 
and Washington's leads. Pot legalisation proponents, however, point 
to the fact that the states' change in the law has been hailed by 
local law enforcement, because being able to leave small-scale pot 
users alone means freedup resources for police to go after violent crime.

David Sirota reported in Salon on a petition he submitted to the 
White House, in which 46,000 people asked Obama to support proposed 
legislation that would not legalise marijuana on a federal level but 
simply change federal law so that states could choose to legalise 
personal use if they wished to do so. Sirota points out that polls 
demonstrate that "between 51 per cent and 68 per cent of Americans 
believe states  and not the feds  should have marijuana enforcement authority".

The White House ignored the petition  in spite of Obama's promise to 
take action on petitions that garner such levels of support. And the 
New York Times reports that the administration is considering taking 
legal action against any states that claim the authority to legalise 
marijuana. One approach being contemplated is for the federal 
government to sue the states "on the grounds that any effort to 
regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law".

Initially, I found it hard to care much about the grassroots movement 
to legalise pot  the right to get high with impunity seemed like a 
very trivial concern given the other issues facing the nation. But 
when one sees how the "war on drugs" generates far bigger 
consequences than mere buzz suppression  from racist incarceration 
outcomes, to prison lobbies writing our laws, to the mass 
disenfranchisement of felons convicted of marijuana possession, whose 
conviction prevents them from being allowed to vote  then the move 
toward decriminalisation by these two states seems urgently needed, 
and a model for others. And the White House's response appears 
especially benighted.

The larger critique also make the case that US drug laws go to heart 
of the issue of who controls our justice system. Besides the trend 
toward privatisation of local police forces, many American prisons 
too are being privatised, and for these businesses, punitive 
marijuana laws are at the centre of this growth strategy.

Indeed, marijuana legalisation groups argue that some prison lobbies 
are so powerful and intrusive that they directly affect state law  to 
make sure that prisons have 90 per cent occupancy. (This is hard to 
achieve solely by prosecuting violent crime, major hard-drug trading 
and white-collar crime.) Forbes notes that any easing of the laws 
that ensnare small-scale users also threatens the profitable spin-off 
of the "war on drugs"  the businesses that want to increase 
privatised incarceration.

Not only does US drug policy boost US incarceration, but many claim 
it also devastates our neighbours to the south. Some in Latin America 
are breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect of US 
decriminalisation: leaders from Mexico to Colombia bemoan what they 
call the distortion of their nations' violence levels and economies 
in the orbit of militarised US drug trade interdiction, blaming 
American policies for escalating local cartel warfare, resulting in 
the deaths of soldiers, police, traffickers and, in Mexico, scores of 
journalists, too.

A congressman in Mexico, Fernando Belaunzaron, introduced a marijuana 
bill modelled on the ones that recently passed in the US:

"Everyone is asking, 'What sense does it make to keep up such an 
intense confrontation, which has cost Mexico so much, by trying to 
keep this substance from going to a country where it's already 
regulated and permitted'?"

Federal actions are not addressing this grassroots revulsion at a 
failed policy; they are, rather, riding roughshod over state voters' 
decisions at the ballot box. So, to all the other bigger issues the 
"war on drugs" raises, add that it is the latest infringement by an 
overweening federal government against the expressed will of the people.

Though medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, 
distributor Aaron Sandusky was recently sentenced in federal court to 
ten years in prison. Sandusky joins four defendants in the US who 
have been targeted by federal prosecutors for medical marijuana 
dispensation  in states in which that is legal. He told the court 
that colleagues of his similarly ensnared are being "victimized by 
the federal government who has not recognized the voters of this state".

California's four federal prosecutors are not stopping with arrests 
of distributors: since 2011, they have also threatened landlords with 
seizure of their property, which has forced hundreds of dispensaries 
to close their doors. The feds have added this latest chapter to an 
under-reported but important trend of states' legislators finding 
themselves in a fight with federal laws.

States' efforts, for example, to fight the Transportation Security 
Administration's (TSA) invasive screenings have created a cluster of 
such battles: Texas's bill to opt out of TSA screening is one 
example. The TSA, however, has fought back before against such 
efforts. In 2010, New Jersey and Idaho sought to ban invasive body 
image scanners and individual airports at that time could opt out of 
screening. But the TSA closed that legal option for states in 
2011  effectively federalising a state resource.

State nullification bills regarding the National Defence 
Authorisation Act are another example of this fight: Michigan's house 
passed a bill, 107 to nothing, against the NDAA. A similar bill has 
been introduced in Nevada. Northampton, Massachusetts, also voted to 
"opt out" of the NDAA is another. Texas has introduced a similar 
bill, and such efforts are taking place across the country. (I have 
written extensively about the grave civil liberties concerns over the NDAA.)

The cry of "states' rights" is not often associated with progressive 
causes, but with the "war on drugs" comprehensively declared a $1 
trillion failure by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the call 
has reason and justice on its side. Will the feds carry their fight 
against the voices expressing popular will from California to 
Colorado, Washington and beyond? Or will the White House temper its 
approach with respect for local democracy.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom