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The federal response to smokin’ states

Well, it finally happened. Two states — Washington and Colorado — passed bills legalizing the green stuff. Yet it still remains a federally classified Schedule I substance, along with heroin and a host of other drugs of that ilk. This creates a situation in which the federal and state laws are in clear conflict with one another and pushes the feds into a corner where they may be forced to act.

Under federal law, even if someone has no intent to sell, “possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction.” And here in Washington, one can can carry up to an ounce without penalty. Talk about conflicting laws.

I co-authored a piece earlier this year in opposition to I-502 here in Washington due to its sketchy DUI provision. This provision establishes an unreliable and unfair system for determining who is impaired and who isn’t. However, now that it has already passed, I’m in support of using it to push wide-scale legalization and amending — as opposed to repealing — the current legislation.

Currently there is a a petition before the Obama administration stating that the people “request the president support a federal law requiring the federal government to protect — rather than undermine or overturn — these state laws and similar laws that other states pass in the future.” Filed by political columnist Dave Sirota, the bill has gained more than 35,000 signatures since its creation on Nov. 12 and offers the Obama administration a middle ground of sorts.

Now, some might argue that the federal government could simply do nothing and allow this state legislation to run its course, but that’s simply not the best course of action. Not taking this golden opportunity means they will be forced to either a.) ignore a blatant undermining of their federal authority, or b.) wage an all-out war on an issue that has been supported by a majority of voters in these states.

By accepting Sirota’s petition, the president will accomplish multiple goals. He won’t look weak by ignoring an issue in clear violation of federal law, and he won’t look like he is undermining the will of the people by opposing a voter-approved measure.

So while our state police departments get ready for the formerly illicit substance to become legalized by posting information on how they will be handling it, the federal government and the Obama administration have a big choice in front of them.
Hopefully they take the right path.

Reach opinion columnist Nathan Taft at opinion@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @Nathantaft

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