Lots of people have sent me an alarming story on ThinkProgress that has Twitter atwitter and Facebook afacebook—and I totally get why they're worried. The piece by Nicole Flatow warns that "federal prosecutors will crack down on recreational marijuana dispensaries and growers even in states where they are legal."
Holy crap, right?
This crackdown reportedly came up when the Canadian magazine Macleans interviewed White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who talked about marijuana-legalization laws that just passed in Washington State and Colorado. If Kerlokowske really is saying that feds will bust state-licensed pot stores, then this would be understandably HUGE news. Up to now, the Obama Administration and the US Department of Justice have been deliberative—telegraphing nothing to officials from those states—so the question is, did Obama's minion spill the beans?
But don't rely on Flatow's characterization of the interview. Look what the Drug Czar actually said when asked about the two states:
You’ll continue to see enforcement against distributors and large-scale growers as the Justice Department has outlined. They will use their limited resources on those groups and not on going after individual users.
Does Kerlikowske's remark actually, as Flatow claims, "state explicitly that the federal government will prosecute dispensaries and producers once they are licensed in Washington and Colorado"?
No. It just doesn't.
I'll explain why it doesn't say that in a second. But first: Media loves to scream THE SKY IS FALLING every time the feds make a move on pot. They claim the feds are putting the kibosh on the whole medical-marijuana thing every time there's a spate of raids. This makes people mistakenly believe that America's unpopular drug laws are insurmountable. But look: MEDICAL MARIJUANA IS STILL BOOMING. It's actually a growing industry, despite all the hysteria that the feds are shutting the whole thing down, rounding everyone up, and putting everyone in jail. Until the feds actually do that, bloggers and editors—especially of progressive media outlets—should hold off on their doomsday misreading of minor events and statements. Those stories might generate web traffic, but they're not helping their progressive agenda; they're deflating it.
So what's the drug czar's comment actually say?
The key parts of Kerlikowske's statement are "large-scale" and "as the Justice Department has outlined." What has the Justice Department outlined? Prosecutors haven't yet outlined pot enforcement in states that legalized recreational pot. The guidelines that exist apply to medical marijuana, but the feds don't differentiate non-medical pot anyway, so those are the guidelines we're working with. What the DOJ outlined in 2009 and 2011 memos is that prosecutors should prioritize charging people breaking state marijuana laws. For example, most of the federal busts in the last few years were people flagrantly exceeding state's medical marijuana laws. That's not a strict policy, and the Feds have license to bust any drug offense at any time, regardless of state law, but they overwhelmingly target obvious abuses of state law. Given that that's the outline, Kerlikowske isn't necessarily saying small-time pot stores licensed in Washington or Colorado—those following state law—will get busted. It may even means the opposite: that licensed growers operating under state law won't get prosecuted.
Since voters approved recreational pot, we've heard the Department of Justice say marijuana is still illegal, but we've also heard that Washington State Governor is encouraged by what he's heard from the US Attorney General Eric Holder, and Obama has also said he's got "bigger fish to fry" than pot users.
And let's put this interview in context: Kerlikowske does not speak for Obama Administration's legal strategy. He doesn't work for the DOJ and he's not even in the president's cabinet. In the interview, he criticizes the administration for having "not done a particularly good job" of talking about "where we should be headed on our drug policy." He's speaking largely as an outsider and critic.
My crystal ball is as cloudy as Flatow's, so I can't say that the federal government won't bust licensed marijuana growers, distributors, and sellers—because they could. Or that they won't file an injunction to freeze WA's and CO's laws before licenses are issued (which could be more likely than busting private citizens)—because they could do that, too. Or they could could leave Washington and Colorado alone—they could realistically make that call just like medical pot. We don't know. But Kerlikowske's recent comments don't make anyone's crystal balls any clearer, and Flatow's extrapolation that the feds will "crack down" seems, at best, naive and, at worst, like click bait.
Sorry if this seems like a lot of pixels to spill on one sensational blogger, but it's necessary to hit back at this counter-productive, knee-jerk naysaying so people don't swallow the bullshit.