With pot shops offering a decent selection at reasonable prices, these alternative suppliers will account for a tiny share of the marijuana market, just as home brewing accounts for a tiny share of the beer market. But if federal drug warriors prevent those stores from operating, they will be confronted by myriad unregulated, small-scale growers, who will be a lot harder to identify, let alone control, than a few highly visible, state-licensed businesses.
The feds, who account for only 1 percent of marijuana arrests, simply do not have the manpower to go after all those growers. Nor do they have the constitutional authority to demand assistance from state and local law enforcement agencies that no longer treat pot growing as a crime.
Given this reality, legal analyst Stuart Taylor argues in a recent Brookings Institution paper, the Obama administration and officials in Colorado and Washington should "hammer out clear, contractual cooperation agreements so that state-regulated marijuana businesses will know what they can and cannot safely do." Such enforcement agreements, which are authorized by the Controlled Substances Act, would provide more security than a mere policy statement, although less than congressional legislation.
Taylor, who says he has no firm views on the merits of legalization, warns that "a federal crackdown would backfire by producing an atomized, anarchic, state-legalized but unregulated marijuana market that federal drug enforcers could neither contain nor force the states to contain." Noting recent polls finding that 50 percent or more of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, he says the public debate over that issue would benefit from evidence generated by the experiments in Colorado and Washington. That's assuming the feds do not go on a senseless rampage through these laboratories of democracy.