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Friday, September 6, 2013

Cautious Optimism About Pot (Or, This Ain't the Twenty-First Amendment)

Posted by on Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 1:03 PM

In this week's paper, Dom dissects and enthusiastically celebrates attorney general Eric Holder's announcement that the feds intend to let states—starting with Washington and Colorado—experiment with marijuana.

It's good news, even excellent news, but my optimism is a little more cautious. Holder's announcement might be the beginning of the end of federal drug prohibition, which would be good for us, our neighbors, and other living things, but that will be a long game. And for every step we take forward, we might very well take a few steps back.

After all, AG Holder and deputy AG James Cole (here is a pdf of his memorandum) issued guidance, not marching orders. Any stubborn US attorney, who will probably still be on the job once Holder has left, is free to enforce federal law (which has not changed). Any future attorney general could reverse this "guidance" as abruptly as Holder announced it.

Furthermore, those eight conditions Holder and Cole specified (Washington marijuana shouldn't show up in other states, minors should have less access to marijuana than they do now, etc., all of which ) have given the feds broad latitude to intervene whenever it becomes politically expedient. They're letting the experiment run, for now, but this ain't the 21st Amendment. An enormous and intricate legal apparatus will have to be dismantled and rebuilt, brick by brick, before we see real change in the drug war. (And it's up to us to make it look like this guidance was a good idea. Let's not fuck it up.)

So optimism, yes. But cautious optimism.

Another reason to be optimistic, for progressives anyway, is the problem Obama (via Holder) has handed to the Republican class of 2016. Drug policy expert Sanho Tree, who's been a helpful source for several previous Stranger stories about the drug war, lays it out:

Holder has essentially placed a ticking time bomb on the GOP’s doorstep that could detonate during the 2016 presidential elections. Because federal law remains unchanged, the next administration can reverse his guidance on a whim and resume the war on pot.

All Republican candidates will be asked during the primaries where they stand on this key issue and any answer they can give will infuriate at least one of the GOP’s powerful factions. A nascent civil war is brewing between the social conservative and the libertarian wings of the party. Neither faction is known for compromising so this question can become a powerfully divisive wedge issue that could accelerate and exacerbate the GOP’s civil war. Whichever side wins, it will send the nominee into the 2016 election bleeding from the fight.

That civil war has been brewing for a long time (I heard several young Republicans at the national convention in 2008, for example, quietly saying they were waiting for their predecessors to retire or die off so they could get to work dismantling the party's drug and gay-marriage policies) and it's boiling over in Ohio right now:

But as Republicans look to take back the White House in 2016, the Buckeye State does not appear to be cooperating. Instead, Republicans in Ohio have slipped into an all out civil war, with a Tea Party faction threatening to break away from the GOP machinery...

“Disappointment would be an appropriate word about where the Tea Party is today,” said Seth Morgan, a former state lawmaker who now works for Americans for Prosperity-Ohio, a Koch brothers–backed group that has helped bankroll numerous Tea Party challenges. “People didn’t get involved to elect individual candidates. They wanted to save the country, and they still do, but there is a high level of frustration here.”

As Neil Clark, an Ohio Republican lobbyist, put it: “I guess for some people in Ohio, unless you are a card-carrying Nazi you can’t be a Republican.”

Whatever happens with this little experiment in a states'-rights approach to drug legalization, it will at least fan the flames of this fire in the heart of the Republican party.

Another reason for cautious optimism.


Comments (6) RSS

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MacCrocodile 1
I'm not convinced a Republican candidate will voice support for marijuana legalization. The idea that the libertarian wing will raise a fuss about it is silly. How much did Ron Paul stand in support of same-sex marriage in the states that enacted it?

Unless the party changes significantly between the last election and the next, the social conservatives will have more sway than the libertarians when it comes to any question on which they can slap a morality label.
Posted by MacCrocodile on September 6, 2013 at 1:15 PM · Report this
"A nascent civil war is brewing between the social conservative and the libertarian wings of the party"

This seems dubious. The alleged libertarian wing of the Republican party largely consists of social conservatives who are libertarian as far as not wanting to pay taxes and not wanting anyone to touch their guns. They are mostly gung-ho for the police state otherwise.

The civil war that is brewing is one between the above mentioned tea heads and the paleo-conservative wing who are more or less only concerned with furthering the interests of rich people.
Posted by Rhizome on September 6, 2013 at 1:30 PM · Report this
If they really cared about those 8 conditions, they'd make them easier to achieve or entirely moot by supporting full federal legalization.
Posted by pox on September 6, 2013 at 1:31 PM · Report this
wisepunk 4
“This was a very developed policy position,” said Morgan. “It’s not like we are talking about the drone debate, where it is a developing issue. How can he just change his mind on this position because of his son, when he spent years courting social conservatives?”

This, in a nutshell, is why the conservatives of this country have gone off the rails. There is no room for position change, or policy change. He should just establish a position and stick to it the rest of his life ignoring everything else.

It is literally this argument:…

Posted by wisepunk on September 6, 2013 at 1:47 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
This is a good point.

Mudede could weigh in on it, along with other African-Americans like Charlize Theron.

Let Freedom Ring!
Posted by Will in Seattle on September 6, 2013 at 2:04 PM · Report this
Yeah, cautious optimism is always a good bet. At the same time, according to my calendar, Mr. Obama will be President of these United States for ... 26 more months. A lot can happen within those 26 months. For example, another state (maybe two) can legalize it as well. My guess is that California and Oregon are next. Basically, the only thing stopping those two states is a good bill -- a good example, perhaps. Well, we have two. Both Colorado and Washington will mange their legalization with ease. A little money (to pay for the state's business) and no serious problems. It will make those other states jealous. Sounds good to me (and California, and Oregon, and who knows, maybe Montana).

While Washington is important, I can't emphasize enough the importance of Colorado. Remember, if Gore had taken Colorado, then he would have become president. Let that bounce around your head for a while (no Iraq war, no enormous deficit, maybe the 9/11 attacks get thwarted). Anyway, back to reality -- the Republicans don't want to lose Colorado. Given that, and the fact that their most senior, most respected, most in power leader just said we should think about legalization, suggests that, I don't know, we should think about legalization. At the same time, there is a major division between the bat-shit crazy libertarian wing of the Republican party and the mainstream (such as it is) wing of the party. So, maybe, the mainstream will throw the libertarians a bone, and say legalization of marijuana is OK. Keep Colorado, and steal a few other states (Florida and Ohio) and then you have another four years on your hands.

If the Republicans are stupid enough to go after marijuana, fine!. Seriously, I've dreamed about legal weed for a long, long time. But if the Republicans are willing to lose an election and be on the wrong side of history (again) then great! Let them fight the good fight, while we win the actual elections. Sooner or later (as with most issues) they will figure out that they are wrong, and agree with us.
Posted by Ross on September 6, 2013 at 4:11 PM · Report this

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