This morning was the hearing on House Bill 1550, the bill that would remove penalties for adult marijuana use and set up a distribution system similar to hard liquor. I was able to watch part of the hearing on TVW this morning and also heard this part that Eli Sanders recounts:
The question that’s always asked about this idea—How can a state legalize pot when the feds have declared it illegal?—was articulated this morning by Rep. Christopher Hurst (D-Enumclaw), who warned that if Washington starts selling cannabis through the state liquor store system, as the bill proposes, “Our state employees will be going to federal prison and the federal government will seize every penny we bring in.”
It’s a very inventive scenario, but not a realistic one. What’s much more likely to happen is that if Washington passes this bill, the federal government would immediately try to block the implementation of the regulatory aspects through the courts. And if they failed to block it that way, I find it incredibly unrealistic that they’d respond by sending DEA agents into a state liquor store, arresting the cashier and sending him to jail. As I’ve written before about this, there’s a point where interfering with a state’s laws is far too politically radioactive.
Hurst pointed out that people are still getting arrested and jailed, almost certainly referring to this case, but the defendant in that case was believed to be in violation of Colorado’s laws as well. The closest we’ve come to Hurst’s nightmare scenario is probably the case of Charlie Lynch. That case was so egregious that even the judge spoke out about how unjust it was that Lynch would have to serve jail time. But that arrest took place during the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration has since decreed that folks like Lynch – who was following state law – would no longer be prosecuted.
We’re certainly dealing with a lot of unknowns here. It’s not clear what happens to successful legislation that removes the state penalties for marijuana possession and sale but whose regulatory aspects are successfully blocked by the federal government. What you’d end up with is legalized marijuana but no ability to regulate its production and sale. Does the federal government really want to be responsible for that outcome? I doubt it, and that might make the state immune from any attempt by the feds to block the regulatory aspects of this legislation. But that’s a logical analysis, and if there’s anything I’ve learned about the war on marijuana, it’s that you shouldn’t expect drug warriors to act logically.