Marijuana Federalism

An initiative to legalize possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana qualified for the November ballot in Colorado yesterday.    The initiative only legalizes possession for those 21 or older, and would also make it legal to grow up to six marijuana plants in one’s home and decriminalize the licensed sale of marijuana, subject to local government regulation or prohibition.

The initiative would have no effect on federal law, so those growing or selling marijuana would still have to worry about federal law enforcement. But does it have to be this way?  When alcohol prohibition ended,states remained free to regulate or proscribe alcohol sales, and federal law (among other things) made it illegal to transport alcohol across state lines in violation of state law.  In other words, the primary federal role became helping states maintain the alcohol laws of their choice.  Given the number of states that have sought to legalize medical marijuana or, in the case of Colorado, consider the legalization of possession, perhaps its time to introduce a bit of federalism into federal drug policy.  Okay, it’s actually long past time for this.  But each time another state moves against drug prohibition is another opportunity to reconsider drug prohibition and the nature and extent to which federal resources should be devoted to the war on drugs.