Of pot and policy

You’ve likely heard the water-cooler jokes about the “Super Bowl,” pitting NFL teams from the two states that have legalized recreational marijuana use against each other. Don’t be surprised to see a clever sports writer list “bogarting the ball” as one of the keys to the game.

Pot lends itself to humorous punchlines. But in the public policy arena, it’s serious business, as recent headlines attest:

✔ Last week, President Barack Obama weighed in with his own personal views on marijuana use, saying he doesn’t think it’s more dangerous than drinking alcohol. (Just what every parent wants to hear.) Perhaps Obama felt compelled to address his own history of smoking pot, lest he appear hypocritical. But we think this is a misguided use of the bully pulpit. Such pronouncements don’t serve the public interest, unless the president backs up his statement with references to sound scientific data. Unfortunately, he didn’t.

✔ The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele M. Leonhart, publicly repudiated the president’s comment at a recent meeting of the nation’s sheriffs. Who can blame her? Charged with upholding the law, she finds herself in the tough position of fighting a war on two fronts: one against drug dealers and one against a movement to end marijuana prohibition that is aided by the president’s comments.

✔ U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced the Obama administration is planning to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers. This actually makes sense, considering the schizophrenic clash of state and federal law.

Until banking regulations bend to accommodate the legal pot trade, sellers have nowhere to put piles of cash. It accumulates, making the businesses, their employees and customers targets for robberies. When opponents predicted an increase in crime, did they envision the shops themselves as potential victims?

✔ “Students may have munched on edible pot” was the headline and one of the first real-life examples of what many critics said was inevitable. The Olathe Police Department is investigating a claim that someone (presumably a student) passed out marijuana edibles to students who ate them. Opponents of the law often cited increased access to marijuana by children as a dangerous consequence of legalizing pot.

We have maintained that only time will tell what the Colorado experiment will yield. Whether it’s increased revenue, or an uptick in crime or more drugs in the schools or a spike in Twinkie sales, we’ll eventually have the data to quantify whether legal marijuana is worth the headache.

In the meantime, one harrowing tale serves as a stark reminder that buying pot legally in Colorado doesn’t provide blanket immunity from drug charges outside of Colorado.

A woman died Friday in a Goodland, Kan., jail cell, where she was being held on charges related to possession of marijuana she purchased in Colorado. Investigators are looking into whether jail guards provided adequate medical attention.

“Narcotourism” may not be the economic boon some Coloradans predicted once word gets out that highway patrols in neighboring states view any vehicle leaving Colorado as a potential drug bust.


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