Brookings Institute: Marijuana Policy and Presidential Leadership: How to Avoid a Federal-State Train Wreck

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director April 12, 2013

    As previewed last week on NORML’s blog, the Brookings Institute is convening a cannabis policy forum on Monday, April 15.

    In advance of the symposium, Brookings has released a comprehensive legal review and critical analysis of the current national and state laws that prohibit cannabis use, cultivation and sales.norml_remember_prohibition_

    Excerpts from the Brookings’ press release and description of the issues tackled by Brookings scholar and noted legal writer and commentator Stuart Taylor, Jr. are found below.

    Mr. Taylor’s thoughtful and dynamic analysis and policy recommendations are here.

    Of equal value and incredibly informative are two accompanying appendixes:

    Appendix One: The Obama Administration’s Approach To Medical Marijuana: A Study In Chaos

    Appendix Two: Conflicts Of Laws: A Quick Orientation to Marijuana Laws At The Federal Level and CO and WA

    Stuart Taylor, Jr. examines how the federal government and the eighteen states (plus the District of Columbia) that have partially legalized medical or recreational marijuana or both since 1996 can be true to their respective laws, and can agree on how to enforce them wisely while avoiding federal-state clashes that would increase confusion and harm communities and consumers.

    * * *

    This paper seeks to persuade even people who think legalization is a bad idea that the best way to serve the federal interest in protecting public health and safety is not for the federal government to seek an end to state legalization. To the contrary, Taylor asserts, a federal crackdown would backfire by producing an atomized, anarchic, state-legalized but unregulated marijuana market that federal drug enforcers could neither contain nor force the states to contain.

    In this broad-ranging primer on the legal challenges surrounding marijuana legalization, Taylor makes the following points:

    • The best way to serve the federal interest in protecting public health and safety is for the federal government to stand aside when it comes to legalization at the state-level.
    • The federal government should nonetheless use its considerable leverage to ensure that state regulators protect the federal government’s interests in minimizing exports across state lines, sales outside the state-regulated system, sales of unduly large quantities, sales of adulterated products, sales to minors, organized crime involvement, and other abuses.
    • Legalizing states, for their part, must provide adequate funding for their regulators as well as clear rules to show that they will be energetic in protecting federal as well as state interests. If that sort of balance is struck, a win-win can be achieved.
    • The Obama Administration and legalizing states should take advantage of a provision of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to hammer out clear, contractual cooperation agreements so that state-regulated marijuana businesses will know what they can and cannot safely do.
    • The time for presidential leadership on marijuana policy is now. The CSA also gives the administration ample leverage to insist that the legalizing states take care to protect the federal interests noted above.

    Stuart also surveys (1) what legalizing states can and cannot do without violating federal law; (2) the Obama’s administration’s approach to medical marijuana and; (3) current marijuana law at the federal level and in Colorado and Washington State.


    17 Responses to “Brookings Institute: Marijuana Policy and Presidential Leadership: How to Avoid a Federal-State Train Wreck”

    1. Ryan says:

      It is definitely a good idea for the Federal Government to respect the policies of the states in this regard, because it is the states that must deal with the aftermath of poor drug control policies. The idea behind current enforcement policy is that if drug offenders are removed from the neighborhood, then the people will be safe to walk the streets and the children can return to the playgrounds, but evidence suggests this may not be the case. The collateral damage from this policy comes from the fact that a lot of those who are arrested from the community are part of a support network for others. It does not truly help a community to remove a father and sole breadwinner from a family, even if he is a drug user. What’s worse is the fact that those who are removed are only returned to that community later, usually in a state where they are even less able to provide for their families with an honest living. Felons are not allowed to take part in many government assistance programs, making it harder to get back on their feet. Furthermore, the majority of businesses will not hire those with criminal backgrounds. In a situation with very limited options, a person may well imagine that they have no choice but to go back to selling drugs. If even a fraction of the money that was used to prosecute and imprison them had been used to help them find adequate education and employment in the first place, the crime might never had existed.

      Ultimately, the person who has to deal with the mess should have the right to decide how to clean it up, and that’s the state, not the Federal government.

    2. dmkt6256 says:

      If we could band together in co-op style communities taking care of one another we just might remember how we use to live. Marijuana communities should be allowed to advertise their existence so we know where they are and directions on how to drive to them and join. If I knew where one was I would pack up and move today. But, prohibition as to end first, so that we can gather without being harassed.

    3. tom rothwell says:

      Why is the option to simply allow the states to manage marijuana so hard to address? Isn’t it the realm of the states to manage medicine, by federalism? If it weren’t so sad to see the corrupt, lying tyrannical policy makers, elected officials, enforcement arms and judiciary wrangle with the question of how states rights should be best oppressed and individual liberties should be denied, it would be humorous.

    4. MotherEarthChoiceNow! says:

      We need a Patients, Doctor’s, Growers Association
      (East Coast).

      Reseaech, New Job Opportunities, New Business Relations, New Product Development!

      Not to mention there is a BOND between Patients, Doctors, and Growers..for the right Lables, on contents, and strength of the Cannabis Medicines. Free from Contamination; even Peoples hairs; free from molds mildew, parasites,and other TRASH!

    5. MotherEarthChoiceNow! says:

      When the Animals got sick, they went and found, in the fields, the herbs needed to heal themselves..so did natiral man..we are still those Representives..We are ALl .Holy Dirt..which makes up all there is of this universe.

      When humans get sick they run to the Doctor’s..they forget, we have abandoned the fields created for us in the first place..because of a stone facelift,…Do something to useful make her beautiful again..so she can Bless us…with her Big Beautiful BUDS for Healing our World, our Planet, Our Universe! Be Grateful to YeHuShua! We can do nothing on our own without Yeshua!

    6. MotherEarthChoiceNow! says:

      This Thimk Tank is off the Chain, I m still in AWE!

      Believe me, they have the Peoples Intrest at Heart. Which is badly needed in Leadership, when it comes to designing a space for a Natural Cannabis Sustaince, that makes-up, and is a natural element in the Spiritual, physical universe for the use of spiritual / physical men, women, children, and Pets.

    7. Julian says:

      The gig is up DEA director Michelle Leonhart. Surrender and compromise Attorney General Holder. Americans know the ugly truth about the Controlled Substance Act and the wars our enforcement agencies are instigating and profiting from. One thing pains me about this analysis. States rights would merely protect domestic abuse of the unconstitutional C.S.Act by preventing asset forfeitures and domestic legislation from cops; the Drug Enforcement Agency. But what about the 2.5 billion dollars Obama just approved for international drug enforcement? The same amount budgeted for drug treatment? So this study, however cordial in its analysis, insults our voting intelligence by suggesting we Americans don’t know that every enforcement agency in our government is running around the world providing weapons at our tax payer expense… To provoke wars our men and women in the military have to mop up and die for so some evil corporation like Haliburton can get rich on with all the “clean up” war contracts.
      The CIA and the DEA are making billions in Afhganistan in the name of anti_terrorism and freedom yet they ARE the terrorists. Providing weapons to both sides in Mexico, Afghanistan and every conflict the Drug policy budget gets involved in is unacceptable and unconsciounably evil. Selling weapons to both sides of civil conflict makes our United States government no better than the Russian government selling guns and helicopters to both sides in Syria.
      There is one point I agree on with the Brookings analysis: greed will destroy any chance of compromise on this deal. I mean really, were talking about expecting Michelle Leonhart to be rational after she testified before Congress that marijuana isn’t a medicine. The Controlled Substance Act is heading for a train wreck and its taking some laundering banks, crooked politicians and corrupt enforcement agents with it. Hey, maybe the DEA can stick around to work for customs to regulate a booming marijuana medicine and industrial hemp economy?

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