Legal pot’s future

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama will begin the process of being confirmed as the next U.S. attorney general amid concerns of a rushed process that won’t result in a proper vetting.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP are focused on Sessions’ civil rights record. There’s no hint, yet, whether Sessions’ views on legal marijuana will be overshadowed by questions about his commitment to protect the liberties of all Americans equally.

By virtue of the partisan breakdown in the Senate, the deck is stacked in favor of Sessions’ confirmation. As such, we’re concerned that he has called marijuana reform a “tragic mistake,” and criticized the Obama administration’s stance not to enforce the federal prohibition on possession.

There’s some debate about whether Sessions will respect the prerogative of individual states to determine their own laws regarding legal recreational cannabis. Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has called for congressional action to prevent a Department of Justice led by Sessions from dismantling the legal marijuana industry.

While it’s unlikely for Congress to extend to marijuana the same protections as alcohol, we agree that Sessions shouldn’t evoke the Supremacy Clause to wreck self-determination. States that have legalized recreational marijuana have transformed growers and pot shops into taxpaying members of a booming trade that has stripped cartels and criminals of their power in the market.

According to the state, use by minors has not significantly changed in Colorado. Statewide, crime related to cultivation, possession and distribution are down.

Are there still problems? Yes. Gov. John Hickenlooper has voiced concerns about the “gray market,” in which marijuana is grown legally but sold illegally. John Walsh, Colorado’s U.S. attorney for six years before stepping down last summer, shared similar sentiments. Both men were initially opposed to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, but have conceded there are certain benefits to a regulated industry.

The state’s medicinal marijuana law allows patients and caregivers to grow up to 99 plants in a residential setting, while the state’s recreational marijuana law allows growers to cultivating six plants per individual. These private grows become ripe for underground sales.

Where Sessions could make the biggest difference is not resurrecting a zero-tolerance stance, but by guiding the DEA and federal prosecutors to help the state address areas where marijuana activities are harming the public good, like cracking down on pirate grows.

Unfortunately, home-grows are woven into the constitutional amendments permitting medical and retail pot, making them difficult to roll back. Some states that have legalized marijuana after looking at the results of Colorado’s experiment have opted against home-grown provisions.

Helping Colorado shore up a weakness is its legal marijuana laws is preferable to blowing up the entire enterprise, damaging the state economy, making criminals of entrepreneurs and violating the will of the people.


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