Montana Politics

Getting Washington (DC) out of Washington – And Montana

With the State of Washington voting to legalize marijuana, it’s time to review Federal marijuana policy before cannabis becomes another issue driving enormous and inefficient wedges between the State and Federal governments. While I’m not ready to jump on the legalization bandwagon just yet, it does seem that the days of effective marijuana regulation are numbered.
The Federal governments clearly has the interest and authority to restrict and attempt to impede the movement of drugs into the United States or across state borders. However, a substance grown and burned within the borders of a single state need not be the responsibility of the Federal government. As states continue to adopt their own rules for both recreation and medical use of marijuana, the issues and conflicts related to differing State and National policies will only increase. It seems the most rational solution is to simply devolve all power over marijuana to the individual States.
There are two major potential benefits to this system: first, it allows drug policy to closer reflect the needs, desires and beliefs of the people it affects. Second, it frees federal resources to assist those states that want to keep marijuana illegal and to control the flow of drugs across the National and State borders.
The only apparent disadvantage to a state-based cannabis control system is the flow from States allowing more marijuana use to those maintaining prohibition. The wort potential circumstance is that some states allow the commercial growing and uninhibited selling of marijuana, making the production of drugs cheap and easy in some states, and causing difficulty in control for states that want to maintain prohibition.
However, for several reasons this is not as potentially damaging as it sounds. For one thing, legal producers of marijuana will have an enormous motivation to keep their product within their State’s borders to avoid trouble with the federal government. For another, increased federal resources will be available in prohibitionist states and to patrol the borders. Furthermore, despite the fact that there are few true border controls between The Netherlands, with its famously liberal marijuana laws, and the rest of the Shengen zone of the EU, marijuana use in Europe, especially among youths, remains far lower than it is in the United States.
Montana’s medical marijuana was the first evidence that a change in policy was needed, but now that states are legalizing recreational marijuana as well, the time has come for drug reform advocates and state’s rights supporters to work together to allow each State to decide for itself to what extent it controls marijuana use among its citizens.

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  • This will be a test to see whether the Feds are willing to abandon the “drug war” mentality. Abroad it’s been used for cover for counterinsurgency, rendered somewhat useless by the supposed “War on Terror,” used for the same purpose.

    Domestically, tyrants are attracted to prohibitions like marijuana, as it is easily accessible and widely ignored. But it is useful for selective law enforcement, a treat for any tyrant. Ergo, minorities populating prisons on drug offenses.

  • I’m not sure the federal government has the authority (or the desire) to patrol along state lines. A limited number of DEA agents will probably continue to do what they’re doing now: focus on the biggest growing and distribution operations, regardless of which state they take place in.

    • I’m not sure the Fed will absolutely have to perform the actual enforcement ‘on the border’, as it were. But removing the federal laws about marijuana would provide real protection to people who attempt to follow their state laws but are nonetheless considered large enough for the DEA to target, like the Medical Cannabis growers in Montana.

    • As long as the DEA exists, it will look for ways to justify its existence and expand its workforce (that’s the iron law of bureaucracy at work) It has absolutely no incentive, and every disincentive, to softly enforce drug laws. Keeping Mary Jane illegal supports government jobs, and in addition, private sector jobs in drug testing, drug counseling, and public and private sector jobs in prisons. Breaking that economic addiction to criminalizing Mary Jane, and to the whole concept of Schedule 1 drugs, is the prerequisite for adopting rational drug laws and enforcement practices.

      In the meantime, I wouldn’t advise leaving Washington or Colorado without your lawyer’s and bail bondsman’s business cards if you have long hair, beads, and headbands, and drive a beat-up Volkswagen minivan with a hippie paint job. See

      • “As long as the DEA exists, it will look for ways to justify its existence and expand its workforce (that’s the iron law of bureaucracy at work)”

        That’s unfortunately very true. There is a whole institution, thousands of people who see success in terms of arrests and jail time, and they will certainly resist change that means less success under those standards.

        But hopefully that can be overcome by the millions of people who have already voted to remove criminal penalties for the use of non-dangerous drugs, millions more in every state who have already seen the light, millions who generally want the federal government out of their state business, and the millions who need to be convinced by the results of the experiment currently going on in Washington and Colorado. What we need to see now is legislative action that reflects that impulse. Fortunately, every time the Feds continue to enforce their policies on marijuana in contravention of state law, the number of people who believe that federal drug policy is best restricted to drugs that are truly dangerous. Hopefully we can get this changed quickly – the longer we wait, the more people’s lives are ruined by ill-conceived policies.

  • There some real hope for this, if you get rid of Private prisons as well. We need to cap Building that crap quickly as well as decriminalize grass for the users right NOw.

    You can leave the laws alone for driving under the influence, and being a dealer, to pacify the Feds and drop the rest down to a nuance fine for smoking.

    I keep telling you folks about Pittsburgh’s grass law. but it doesn’t sink in yet. That’s the stepping stone we need if/ Until we get enough GOP on our side to stop arresting folks and taking them to court, we get enough GOP to change the Law.

    It costs this state millions of dollars every year to prosecute pot smokers. The war on drugs is gonna break us and the federal govt.

  • Any serious analysis of the “drug wars” would have to include the crackdown on marijuana in the 1930’s, seen as a Mexican problem. The drug served the purpose of allowing US authorities to spotlight that minority for targeted arrests. The 1973 “Rockefeller Drug Laws” made New York the highest drug incarceration state in the union, the primary target being the black population. JT Gatto mentions in his writings about how police regularly raided the black neighborhoods at and arrest black males. No one can speak to unspoken intent, but from appearances, it appears as though the effort results in a fractured black population with potential civic leaders in jail. Any fool can easily predict that if the authorities were really interested in arresting drug users, they would hit Wall Street.

    In short, the “Drug War” has never been about drugs, so when I read that it has failed, I wonder “failed at what?” If its purpose is to control minorities and act as a cover for foreign intervention and counterinsurgency, it is a huge success.

    A real “drug war” would emphasize entreatment and not arrest and imprisonment. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the DW was intended to take the place of Communism as the enemy du jure, but it did not really have the gravitas of a scary military threat. Since 9/11, terrorists have assumed that posture, so that the Drug War is of less importance. If indeed the feds allow Colorado and Washington to manage their own affairs, it will be for that reason – the WoT is fulfilling the need. Still, I don’t see it happening.

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