Of course, it is possible that the federal government, which continues to define cannabis as an illegal commodity that is as dangerous as heroin, will try to use its limited resources in these states to prosecute marijuana possession offenses under federal law. But such a scenario is hardly plausible. Right now, the federal government lacks the manpower, political will, and public support to engage in such behavior. In fact, rather than triggering a federal backlash, it is far more likely that the passage of Amendment 64 and I-502 will be the impetus for the eventual dismantling of federal pot prohibition.
Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police. How did America’s “noble experiment” with alcohol prohibition come to an end? Simple. When a sufficient number of states — led by New York in 1923 — enacted legislation repealing their alcohol prohibition laws. With state police and prosecutors no longer engaging in the federal government’s bidding to enforce an unpopular law, D.C. politicians eventually had no choice but to abandon the policy altogether.
History is now repeating itself. Are those inside the Beltway paying attention?
About the author: Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book, “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009).