Pubdate: Sun, 15 Sep 2013
Source: Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)
Copyright: 2013 The Virginian-Pilot


Aggressive enforcement of federal drug laws has proven quite 
effective at building up law enforcement agencies and exploding 
government expenditures. But actually reducing drug use in the U.S.? Not quite.

That assessment isn't in dispute. An Associated Press investigation 
in 2010 revealed this nation has spent $1 trillion on drug-control 
efforts since 1970. In return, an estimated 37 million nonviolent 
drug offenders have been imprisoned, the number of overdoses has 
steadily increased and the number of drug users nearly doubled.

The federal government seems finally to be recognizing that a policy 
change is necessary. And that it may not have all the answers.

The Justice Department announced last month that it doesn't intend to 
challenge state laws permitting recreational or medical uses of 
marijuana or use federal resources to enforce federal laws there. 
Instead, it will defer to states to handle the issue mostly on their own.

It is a striking departure for President Barack Obama's 
administration, which previously had been willing to raid marijuana 
dispensaries sanctioned to operate by states, such as California, in 
defiance of federal law. It also follows an evolution of public sentiment.

National polls conducted by Gallup have repeatedly shown Americans' 
growing interest in legalizing marijuana, even as the number of young 
Americans who've acknowledged trying the drug has declined.

States have increasingly taken up the debate over whether to legalize 
marijuana, whether for recreational or medical use. More than 20 
states and the District of Columbia have approved one or both uses.

Left largely unsettled, however, has been the role of the federal and 
state governments in regulating drugs and policing their sale and 
use. Until now.

The Justice Department made clear that it would resume enforcement if 
states didn't create and operate a regulatory structure that - among 
other conditions - forbade drugged driving and marijuana growing on 
public lands.

In Colorado, where voters approved recreational use of marijuana last 
year, Attorney General John W. Suthers said that work is under way. 
He wasn't surprised by the feds' decision, just "mystified as to why 
it took so long to articulate it."

"Clarification of the federal position, however, is nevertheless welcome."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom