In­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion could roll back states’ pot le­gal­iza­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY KRIS­TEN WY­ATT

DEN­VER | Weed is win­ning in the polls, with the solid ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans say­ing mar­i­juana should be le­gal. But does that mean the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will let dozens of state pot ex­per­i­ments play out? Not by a long shot.

The gov­ern­ment still has many means to slow or stop the mar­i­juana train. And Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­na­tion of Alabama Sen. Jeff Ses­sions to be the next at­tor­ney gen­eral has raised fears that the next ad­min­is­tra­tion could crack down on weed-tol­er­ant states 20 years af­ter Cal­i­for­nia be­came the first to le­gal­ize med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

“We need grown-ups in charge in Wash­ing­ton to say mar­i­juana is not the kind of thing that ought to be le­gal­ized. It ought not to be min­i­mized that it’s in fact a very real dan­ger,” Mr. Ses­sions said dur­ing an April Se­nate hear­ing.

The Con­trolled Sub­stances Act bans pot even for med­i­cal pur­poses. A closer look at some of the gov­ern­ment’s op­tions for en­forc­ing it:

Take ’em to court: The gov­ern­ment rarely in­vokes its au­thor­ity to sue states, but it’s the quick­est path to com­pli­ance. The Jus­tice Depart­ment could file law­suits on the grounds that state laws reg­u­lat­ing pot are un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause they are pre-empted by fed­eral law.

Some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pened in 2010, when the Jus­tice Depart­ment suc­cess­fully sued Ari­zona to block an im­mi­gra­tion law that con­flicted with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion law.

Fed­eral courts also can com­pel ac­tion, not just block it, as in Ken­tucky last year, when a county clerk was or­dered to is­sue mar­riage li­censes to same-sex cou­ples fol­low­ing a land­mark U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing.

Twenty-eight states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., al­low mar­i­juana for med­i­cal or recre­ational pur­poses. The gov­ern­ment has yet to sue any of them.

Raid pot busi­nesses: The gov­ern­ment could avoid court en­tirely if it doesn’t mind a more ex­pen­sive op­tion: law en­force­ment raids.

The Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­tains the le­gal abil­ity to shut down any­one sell­ing or grow­ing pot, but there has been no co­or­di­nated fed­eral at­tempt to close pot pro­duc­ers in mul­ti­ple states. The agency has said re­peat­edly that it does not have the re­sources to pur­sue or­di­nary pot users.

Any change in that ap­proach would likely re­quire more money from Congress, which just saw many of its con­stituents vote in fa­vor of le­gal­iza­tion. And a fed­eral agency prob­a­bly will not spend lim­ited re­sources bust­ing peo­ple grow­ing pot for per­sonal use, said John McKay, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney in Wash­ing­ton state.

“Who is go­ing to stop peo­ple from smok­ing pot in a res­i­dence in Den­ver? Fed­eral agents?” he said. “They are go­ing to stop do­ing ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions and start ar­rest­ing peo­ple for pot? That, to me, is crazy.”

Fi­nan­cial hur­dles: It’s the big­gest com­plaint in the weed busi­ness: taxes.

Busi­nesses sell­ing mar­i­juana can­not use tax breaks or in­cen­tives of­fered to other small busi­nesses, and some of them say they pay 80 per­cent or more of ev­ery dol­lar on taxes and fees. They have lim­ited ac­cess to bank­ing be­cause many fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions are leery of the pa­per­work they are re­quired to file on clients work­ing with mar­i­juana.

Colorado of­fi­cials tried last year to ease the

“We need grown-ups in charge in Wash­ing­ton to say mar­i­juana is not the kind of thing that ought to be le­gal­ized. It ought not to be min­i­mized that it’s in fact a very real dan­ger.” — At­tor­ney gen­eral nom­i­nee Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, Alabama Repub­li­can

bank­ing bur­den by set­ting up a spe­cial credit union to safely han­dle pot shops’ money, only to see the Fed­eral Re­serve Bank and fed­eral courts block the ef­fort.

As long as Congress and the new ad­min­is­tra­tion leave those hur­dles in place, the mar­i­juana busi­ness will grow halt­ingly. Vot­ers may gen­er­ally sup­port pot le­gal­iza­tion, but few have sym­pa­thy for a pot en­tre­pre­neur un­able to be­come a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire be­cause of bank­ing ob­sta­cles.

Stricter reg­u­la­tions: Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who are skep­ti­cal of mar­i­juana but also leery of go­ing against pub­lic opin­ion can use reg­u­la­tion and red tape to slow com­mer­cial pot.

Le­gal­iza­tion op­po­nents fre­quently de­cry the strength of to­day’s mar­i­juana, an ar­gu­ment that pro­vides po­lit­i­cal cover for pot skep­tics who once used the drug them­selves and gives le­gal­iza­tion op­po­nents a back­door route to block­ing weed.

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