Voters in Washington and Colorado strongly approved legalizing and regulating marijuana use like alcohol earlier this month, the first states to do so, putting new pressure on the Obama administration to ease off its aggressive campaign to enforce federal criminal penalties against states where voters have approved medical marijuana laws.
In addition to the two voter mandates on November 6, Latin American leaders moved the following week to intensify their calls to end the Drug War, which has claimed 60,000 lives since 2006 in Mexico alone. Significantly, Felipe Calderon, the outgoing Mexican president who launched the US-backed military offensive, joined the presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica and Belize in calling for a “review” of the international Drug War in light of regional moves to legalize the “production, consumption and distribution” of marijuana, largely for the US consumer market. Uruguay is on the verge of adopting legislation to create a “marijuana republic” under government control.
The Summit of the Americas leadership recently warned President Obama that his Drug War policies face rejection in the hemisphere without significant shifts in emphasis.
The North American voter mandates thus complete a popular pincer movement against the Drug War.
According to Ethan Nadelmann, leader of the Drug Policy Alliance, successful implementation of the voter mandates in Washington and Colorado will depend on continued public pressure and defense of the voter mandates by federal officials from the two states. “We’ve had a hell of a time trying to get senators from medical marijuana states to stand up, but we’re trying ever harder with respect to both medical marijuana and now legalization.”
The Obama administration’s hard line may be changing. It is notable, for example, that Attorney General Eric Holder issued no warning this year that the administration would block the Washington and Colorado initiatives if they were passed. By contrast, Holder sent a stern message in 2010 that he would move against the proposed California marijuana initiative if it passed, a statement that helped defeat the measure at the polls.
Colorado and Washington have up to one year to adopt regulations. The federal government has been more reluctant, according to Nadelmann, to move against states in the process of adopting their own regulatory regime for marijuana, consistent with a promise Obama made in 2008.
Only seven percent of Americans believe the US is winning the war on drugs, according to mid-November poll by Rasmussen Reports.