Conflicts Ahead If California Legalizes Marijuana


As marijuana advocates gather signatures to qualify at least three legalization measures for next year’s California ballot, one poll shows voters would support making the state of 40 million the nation’s first to legalize the drug, reports the Associated Press. That would send California into conflict with the U.S. government while raising questions about how federal law enforcement could enforce its drug laws. California’s marijuana trade is thriving, thanks to a first-of-its-kind 1996 ballot measure that allowed people to smoke pot for medical purposes. Full legalization could turn medical-marijuana dispensaries into all-purpose pot stores, and open sales of the drug could become commonplace.

Under federal law, marijuana is illegal. “Legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary, and it’s not in mine,” said Gil Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief who now is federal drug czar. The Supreme Court has ruled that federal agents have the right to crack down even on marijuana users and distributors who are in compliance with medical-marijuana laws. Some analysts say the federal government would not be able to require California to help enforce the federal marijuana ban if the state legalizes the drug. Nothing can stop federal agents from making marijuana arrests, even if Californians legalize pot. However, the U.S. government cannot require local and state police, sheriff’s departments, or state narcotics enforcers to help. Fewer than 1 percent of the more than 847,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2008 were made by federal law enforcement.

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