Don’t get too pumped about pot or, rather, don’t get too excited about its legalization.
Initiative 502 is on Washington state’s November ballot and if passed would license and decriminalize marijuana production, distribution and possession, tax marijuana sales, and earmark marijuana-related revenues, according to the voter guide on the Secretary of the State’s website.
Although I favor I-502’s enactment, it’s a rough road ahead.
To the average toker this may sound like a godsend. However, even if I-502 passes, it still faces a serious hurdle known as the supremacy clause, which could derail its smooth implementation.
Found in the U.S. Constitution, the supremacy clause reads, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme law of the land… the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”
In other words, if federal and state laws are in contradiction, federal law wins.
No matter the results of I-502 on the morning of Nov. 7, marijuana is still a controlled illegal substance under United States federal law.
In order to achieve complete legalization, advocates must turn their anger to the proper source, the national government. Even if the measure is passed in Washington state, the other Washington stands ready and able to penalize distribution, sale and possession.
However, as some people might consider, certain national politicians such as the president have been known to smoke it up and therefore might support nationalization.
But President Barack Obama's own justice department is less accepting. According to an article in Rolling Stone magazine, the Obama administration is, “… busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana.”
That gives quite a scare to Washington state employees who could be tasked with regulating the substance’s production, distribution and possession. It also puts a damper on the vision of a thriving pot economy and a resulting burst in revenues for the state treasury.
But that does not mean states should fear experimenting. I agree with Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who said in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann that states should act as, “laboratories of democracy,” by testing social and economic policies on a micro-scale.
However, the reality of I-502’s implementation is not so stark or simple. The country has seen years of failed social policies, such as the war on drugs, coupled with convoluted and contradictory laws between state and federal governments. This experience has led me to conclude I-502 is far from a cure for the woes of legalization supporters within the state.
Its enactment would present a host of obstacles for those who wish to see that marijuana be allowed social, legal and cultural deference. However, this legalization within the state would give many opportunities for long-term legal and perceptual change on a national scale.
Suit up supporters and get ready for court, because November’s vote on I-502 is only the beginning in an enduring legal and cultural journey.
I’m no fortune teller, but given the Obama administration’s crack-down on states, I would not bet on being able to buy marijuana after Nov. 6 without a little interference from Uncle Sam.