Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Did we just legalize marijuana?

Last week we had numerous federal laws that make possessing and distributing marijuana a crime. This week the laws are still there. Nothing's changed on that front.

What has changed is that our U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has directed federal prosecutors not to go after possessors and distributors of marijuana who are complying with state medical marijuana laws. He said, “It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.”

Seems fair enough, but I question whether the Justice Department's directive will go unchallenged by those who use and distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes in the 36 states where it is still illegal under state law.

Can the federal government choose not to enforce federal laws in selected states? Is there a requirement that the Justice Department apply the principles of justice evenly across all states? Could the lack of evenhandedness be grounds for a Supreme Court case? Did we just legalize marijuana?

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt


  1. I know I'm commenting on my own blog post, but this thought just occured to me. What would happen if the Obama administration issued the same directive with respect to filing tax returns in states where same sex marriage is legal?

    Follow me, here. Currently, a gay couple cannot use the filing status Married Filing Jointly. In many cases, doing so saves thousands of dollars compared to two people filing as Single.

    So, if the administration told its prosecutors and the IRS not to go after gay couples filing jointly in states that recognize same sex marriages, wouldn't that be analogous to the marijuana deal?

    If a gay couple could save thousands of dollars by illegally filing jointly (and it would still be illegal, just like possessing and distributing marijuana is still illegal under federal law), wouldn't that seem to be a bit problematic for the U.S. Treasury and the IRS?

    I'm guessing that Eric Holder isn't contemplating making such a pronouncement, but why shouldn't legally married gay couples point to this medicinal marijuana directive and demand the same treatment?

  2. Point one, We? "WE" didn't have any one thing to do with this roody J hoody decision. The only way to increase ANY departments effectiveness is to reduce its' workload or hire more people. In this case the work load has been reduced. Randy, your gay marriage tax analogy certainly could be applicable if obama so desires but as a tax guy, I believe you could come up with numerous taxable combo's. I'm confident obamas' people are two steps ahead of you. As what is happening here in MA, government "revenue generators" are moving ahead full steam. The target, the taxpayer.

  3. No matter where one stands on the underlying debate on medical marijuana, it sends a very bad message when the Chief Executive tells those below him NOT to enforce and prosecute a law which was passed by Congress.

    What happened to the balance and separation of powers? Seems like the President is acting more like a King than a President.

    If the President wants medical marijuana to be allowed, he should offer a Bill to do so, not tell the Attorney General not to enforce a law which was passed by the duly elected representatives of the people...

  4. Public agencies prioritize use of resources all the time. It's called selective enforcement, and there's nothing unusual about it.

    I think we wouldn't have to dig too hard to find, say, violations of environmental laws that weren't vigorously prosecuted by a recent administration that didn't consider that kind of thing worth spending government resources to pursue.

  5. "What happened to the balance and separation of powers? Seems like the President is acting more like a King than a President."

    This comment is 9 years late, friend.

  6. I agree it may be a form of selective enforcement and that it happens all the time, but this does not make it OK. We should honor the powers of the different branches of government, no matter who is in charge.


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