Feds To Sue To Stop Amendment 64?

A New York Times story today is making supporters of the recently-passed Amendment 64, the initiative legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in Colorado, freshly nervous:

Senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.

Even as marijuana legalization supporters are celebrating their victories in the two states, the Obama administration has been holding high-level meetings since the election to debate the response of federal law enforcement agencies to the decriminalization efforts.

Marijuana use in both states continues to be illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. One option is to sue the states on the grounds that any effort to regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law. Should the Justice Department prevail, it would raise the possibility of striking down the entire initiatives on the theory that voters would not have approved legalizing the drug without tight regulations and licensing similar to controls on hard alcohol…

This story doesn’t say that the Obama administration has made a decision to sue to stop Amendment 64–it seems to be more about weighing options, and heavy lobbying from law enforcement interests no doubt happy to encourage the prospect of a crackdown. On the other hand, as this story explains well, Obama faces political problems from such a crackdown, since legalization is most popular among liberal base Democrats.

Despite the consternation this story is stoking among legalization supporters, we would advise patience–this article describes meetings that one should fully expect are taking place, since understanding the range of options is the Justice Department’s job. It doesn’t necessarily mean the will of Colorado and Washington voters is about to be thwarted from above, or that the provisions regarding personal possession versus commercial regulation won’t be dealt with separately. Amendment 64 was written to be “severable,” making it harder (at least in theory) to invalidate the entire amendment if one section is struck down.

15 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ohwilleke says:

    would make life a whole lot easier for everyone from the President and Justice Department (including the U.S. Attorney), to law enforcement officials at all levels, to state and local legislative and regulatory officials, to people contemplating starting legalization related businesses, to individual users who have the specter of an unlikely federal prosecution looming.

    In terms of federal spending, it is far cheaper to assent to state legalizations than it is to pay a lot of people to figure out how to fight Amendment 64 until they finally decide to give up.

  2. Meiner49erMeiner49er says:

    Hate to offer up a harsh bud on a Friday afternoon, but I’m not sure it matters much one way or t’other.  

    Hick  has “higher” aspirations and will cooperate with DOJ to make sure 64 gets snuffed out in the middle somehow.

    At best he gets the VP nod for it.  At worst, he suffers Owens’ fate and his national political ambitions go up in smoke.  

    Either way, my bet is he’s likely to end up wishing he could light up, legally.

  3. Albert J. Nock says:

    Obama is going to send his voters up the river.  

    Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party believe in everything you Democrats believe in EXCEPT stealing and redistributing other people’s money.  If you people could just give up thievery and join us Libertarians, we would have it made!

  4. caroman says:

    USA Today reports on a poll that shows almost a 2-1 view that the federal government should not enforce marijuana laws in states that legalized pot.

    70% of Baby Boomers (ages 50 – 64) and 69% of those under 30 say the Feds should chill out.

    The Obama Administration would have to be drunk to fight those numbers.

  5. CaninesCanines says:


    Now, a coalition of business groups opposed to legalization is not only asking for clarification, but is urging the federal government to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, which maintains that smoking marijuana is against the law.

    The coalition is made up of twenty business organizations across the state, mainly chambers of commerce and economic development corporations…

    They claim to respect the will of the voters, but are asking the federal government to crack down:

  6. Diogenesdemar says:


    (It’s my opinion that the lunatic fringe ought to remain a fringe.)  

  7. ajb says:

    They’re looking for the escape hatch with the least turbulence.

    I wish them luck with that!

  8. OldAuroraDem says:

    Does this mean that all of these business organizations will deny memberships to Colorado licensed businesses in a post 2014 state regulated era?

  9. The realistThe realist says:

    The letter does not really explain why or how this is such a critical issue for the business community, but it says repeatedly that it IS a critical issue.  If it’s simply about whether employees of the businesses can possess and use marijuana, under the new law, it would not be too difficult for businesses to have policies about employees not working under the influence of any work-impairing substance, whether marijuana or alcohol or something else.  They seem to be not-so-subtly begging the DOJ to interfere with Colorado’s new law.  You’d think these organizations would have lots more important issues to get excited about.

  10. parsingreality says:

    Many organizations, like the last one I worked for in CO, have a zero MJ policy. They don’t do random testing, but if you are injured on the job, it’s part of the investigation.

    It’s why I did not smoke for many years, I loved my job and a toke wasn’t worth it.

    Flash forward:  If pot is legal, can a company deem your HTC levels are deleterious to your job?  A possible stance with alcohol, but what about a compound that can linger a month after any high?

    Are there any standards that X/nanograms/ml indicates probable impairment?  I have a long, funny story about how I skirted HTC testing to get a job.  I had a private lab examine me before I went to the lab that my future employer used to weed out the druggies. On the day I was tested, I would have failed.  Three days later, I passed and went to the corporate lab.

  11. Duke Coxdukeco1 says:

    between law enforcement and the Chamber of Commerce is an old one and very well developed. You can bet the Partnership for a Drug Free America and all those who stand to lose their livelihoods from the end of the illegal marijuana trade are very concerned.

    Most concerns about Cannabis are driven by ignorance or personal ambition.

    There are many influential people who believe there is some real threat to society…they can become informed with time and a realization that their fears are unfounded.  

  12. GalapagoLarryGalapagoLarry says:

    Corporations and their trade organizations (read “lobbyists”) are pissed because the law sets limits on possession too low and sales problematic. If possessing 500 tons of marijuana were legal and if they could market it to kids, corporations could make a buck on the action and they’d have their best legal teams defending 64.

    Anybody think these corporate shills want “clarification” because of some sort of altruism toward Colorado and its (using or non-using) citizens? Really? They’re looking for an angle. They smell money, and they’re out to make sure legislators “clarify” the law their way.

  13. GalapagoLarryGalapagoLarry says:

    Since it’s been illegal to possess the stuff, it’s been unavailable in the US for serious studies into long term use, it’s affective durability in the brain, etc. Perhaps, if legalization is respected, we can get a handle on the facts, not just the superstitions.

    Superstitions on both sides, by the way: How many times have I heard, “Man, I’m a better driver when I’m stoned”? Patently ridiculous. Personally, I’m pretty sure I’m not even a better walker when I’m stoned (which, as I’ve witnessed here, has been once in however many years).

    As we’ve gotten better acquainted, scientifically, with alcohol over the years, we’ll soon know more about marijuana. (And, dare we hope, more about the various ingredients in tobacco products. And energy drinks. And bacon. And… .)

  14. FREMONTDEM says:

    Amendment 64 did not pass with just “liberal” support. This is not an issue that is not well suited to the standard lines separating Democrats and Republicans.

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