Whether or not it tries to block marijuana legalization in the courts, the Obama administration can raid state-legal pot shops, as it has done with medical marijuana dispensaries. It can use asset forfeiture as an intimidation tactic against landlords and threaten banks that accept deposits from pot businesses with money laundering charges. The Internal Revenue Service can make life difficult for pot sellers by disallowing their business expenses.
The one thing federal drug warriors cannot do, judging from their track record even when they have the full cooperation of state and local law enforcement agencies, is suppress the business entirely, let alone arrest a significant percentage of people who grow pot for themselves and their friends (as Colorado's initiative allows). According to the FBI, there were 758,000 marijuana arrests nationwide last year, the vast majority for possession. The DEA was responsible for about 1 percent of them.
Given their limited resources, the feds may yet see the wisdom, if not the constitutional imperative, of letting Colorado and Washington go their own way. Last year a Gallup poll put national support for marijuana legalization at 50 percent -- the highest level ever recorded. Brian Vicente, co-director of the campaign for Colorado's legalization initiative, hopes last week's historic votes "will send a message to the federal government that they need to back off entirely and let states engage in the responsible regulation of marijuana."
Hard-line drug warriors like Hutchinson are keen to prevent that from happening -- not because they fear it will be disastrous but because they fear it won't be.