O'Brien: Federal involvement in state drug laws intrusive, harmful

On Nov. 6, voters in Colorado and Washington made history with the passage of Amendment 64 and Initiative 502, respectively, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

Voters’ passage of these laws highlights the friction between the federal government’s failed “War on Drugs” as well as outdated drug classifications and the growing normalization of marijuana smoking.

Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, which means there is a “high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD – clearly two drugs that are equally as dangerous to society as cannabis.

Reasonably, this classification has perplexed supporters around the country. Medical marijuana shops have been popping up throughout California since the passage of Proposition 215 in 1998. Subsequently, 18 other states and Washington, D.C. have passed similar measures, but regulations on dispensaries and patient registrations remain a complicated process.

The only reason for this, however, is that federal regulations interfere with states’ ability to incorporate effective systems to manage said dispensaries and registrations.

Colorado and Washington are treading in unknown waters.

According to Coloradoan.com, the amendment will allow for the establishment of special stores where people can buy marijuana and sets a July 1, 2013 deadline for creating regulations. Furthermore, people can begin legally growing and smoking their pot as soon as the Colorado secretary of state certifies election results on Dec. 6.

But with medical marijuana shops already facing resistance from federal agencies, why should anyone expect that recreational shops wouldn’t meet similar interference?

“The voters have spoken, and we have to respect their will,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”

As Hickenlooper said, the crux of the conflict lies in the incongruence of federal marijuana classification with state legalization laws.

There is, however, a very logical solution: The reclassification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug – which is already long overdue.

As elected officials said, the voters have spoken. When a law goes against the will of the people – the people who elect the officials that create our laws – there is a serious problem with the democratic process.

Not only is the recreational use of marijuana an issue of democratic liberty but also one that could reap substantial benefits for the country. Currently, the U.S. spends $1 billion dollars on inmates jailed for marijuana-related offenses and $41.8 billion in taxpayer’s money for general marijuana prohibition.

Conversely, Colorado receives $5 million in tax revenue solely on medical marijuana. Bloomberg Businessweek estimates that legal marijuana could be a $45-to-$100 billion industry and TIME reports that the California crop is worth $14 billion a year, making it the most valuable cash crop in the state.

Further, a paper that 300 economists endorsed reports that the government would save an estimated $13.7 billion on prohibition enforcement costs and tax revenue by legalizing marijuana – and this doesn’t even begin to assess the benefit of decreased U.S. involvement with Mexican drug cartels.

To continue treating marijuana as a harmful substance is outdated. The U.S. government needs to consider the benefits legalization could have for the country, especially in a time of severe economic stagnation.

And if nothing else, how about our principles: for the people, by the people. The people of Washington and Colorado say they want to smoke.