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Home > civil liberties, criminal justice, philosophy, politics, regulation > Eric Sterling on How the Feds Will React to Colorado and Washington

Eric Sterling on How the Feds Will React to Colorado and Washington

Federal drug laws don’t care about what happened last night in Colorado and Washington. But soon the federal government might have to start caring. Eric Sterling explains:

[N]o one can predict exactly how the federal government will respond. While the legal route is probably clear, the politics are not. Legally, the state laws violate the Single Convention on Narcotics to which the U.S. is a signatory. Thus the U.S. has a treaty obligation to enjoin the states from carrying out their laws. However, there is no authority in the United Nations to force the U.S. to do this. While Article VI of the Constitution provides that treaties (like federal laws) are “supreme Law of the Land,” we know that the Supreme Court has held Acts of Congress to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court may be asked to weigh the powers reserved to the States under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution against the treaty obligations at some point. Of course, counsel in the Justice Department could conclude that the restrictions of the treaties intrude to far into our domestic law, and not defend the treaty against state claims, but that would be an unlikely outcome, both legally and politically.

I think it is probable that the federal government will bring suit to enjoin Washington and Colorado from carrying out the licensing provisions of their new laws, and I think it is likely that the lower federal courts will rule for the federal government. If legal cultivation and sales get underway in CO and WA, they will supply distributors throughout the nation because their costs are likely to undercut illegal growers elsewhere, and the price of marijuana across the nation will go down, perhaps quite dramatically. This is the prediction of Jonathan Caulkin, Mark Kleiman and Beu Kilmer, three of the co-authors of the excellent book, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, (Oxford Univ. Press, 2012).

Is there likely to be an increase in illegal marijuana cultivation in these states for distribution elsewhere in the U.S. by those hoping to escape state prosecution and anticipating that federal prosecution can’t meet the extent of the law breaking?

Will either of these states start collecting sales tax, excise tax and other revenues? Not if the feds can block their programs, which gives the state authorities a powerful incentive to resist the federal suits.

A very important question is how the rest of the world will react. Mexico in particular may quickly conclude that they could reduce if not eliminate the bloody conflict among their criminal organizations and against the society if they were no longer being fueled to a significant degree by illegal marijuana sales, according to a Christian Science Monitor report. Alesandro Madrazo, a Mexico City law professor, predicted at a conference at The Brookings Institution on Oct. 3, 2012, that Mexico would fairly quickly legalize  marijuana in response to U.S. marijuana legalization.

Image via Sterling on Justice & Drugs

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