Jacob Sullum
Three months ago, voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing the possession, production and distribution of marijuana. A month later, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would settle on a response to this historic development "relatively soon."

How soon is that? I have been trying to get a response to that question from Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre for about a month, but she is not returning my calls. Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney's offices in Colorado and Washington decline to give any indication of how they will treat the state-licensed marijuana stores that are scheduled to open next year.

This caginess may be a good sign, reflecting the Obama administration's awareness that interfering with these experiments in pharmacological tolerance would be politically perilous. Survey data released last week indicate that most Americans think marijuana should be legalized, while an even larger majority says states should be free to make that decision.

In a Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey completed on Jan. 21, 53 percent of respondents said "the government should treat marijuana the same as alcohol." Asked whether the federal government should arrest pot smokers in Colorado and Washington, 72 percent said no; more strikingly, by a margin of 2 to 1, the respondents said the federal government should not arrest newly legal growers or sellers, either. Two-thirds of the respondents took that view.

These results indicate that some people who oppose marijuana legalization nevertheless believe the choice should be left to the states, as a consistent federalist would. Reflecting that tendency, most Republicans and self-identified conservatives in the Reason-Rupe poll supported marijuana prohibition, but most also said the federal government should not try to impose that policy on Colorado and Washington. A CBS News poll conducted in November generated similar results.

In a December interview with ABC News, President Obama said his administration had no plans to go after marijuana consumers, which the federal government almost never does anyway, but he did not say how state-licensed suppliers will be treated. He added that "we're going to need to have a conversation" about the interplay between state legalization and continued federal prohibition.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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