Brookings Institute: Marijuana Policy and Presidential Leadership: How to Avoid a Federal-State Train Wreck

As previewed last week on NORML’s blog, the Brookings Institute is convening a cannabis policy forum on Monday, April 15.

In advance of the symposium, Brookings has released a comprehensive legal review and critical analysis of the current national and state laws that prohibit cannabis use, cultivation and sales.norml_remember_prohibition_

Excerpts from the Brookings’ press release and description of the issues tackled by Brookings scholar and noted legal writer and commentator Stuart Taylor, Jr. are found below.

Mr. Taylor’s thoughtful and dynamic analysis and policy recommendations are here.

Of equal value and incredibly informative are two accompanying appendixes:

Appendix One: The Obama Administration’s Approach To Medical Marijuana: A Study In Chaos

Appendix Two: Conflicts Of Laws: A Quick Orientation to Marijuana Laws At The Federal Level and CO and WA

Stuart Taylor, Jr. examines how the federal government and the eighteen states (plus the District of Columbia) that have partially legalized medical or recreational marijuana or both since 1996 can be true to their respective laws, and can agree on how to enforce them wisely while avoiding federal-state clashes that would increase confusion and harm communities and consumers.

* * *

This paper seeks to persuade even people who think legalization is a bad idea that the best way to serve the federal interest in protecting public health and safety is not for the federal government to seek an end to state legalization. To the contrary, Taylor asserts, 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.

In this broad-ranging primer on the legal challenges surrounding marijuana legalization, Taylor makes the following points:

  • The best way to serve the federal interest in protecting public health and safety is for the federal government to stand aside when it comes to legalization at the state-level.
  • The federal government should nonetheless use its considerable leverage to ensure that state regulators protect the federal government’s interests in minimizing exports across state lines, sales outside the state-regulated system, sales of unduly large quantities, sales of adulterated products, sales to minors, organized crime involvement, and other abuses.
  • Legalizing states, for their part, must provide adequate funding for their regulators as well as clear rules to show that they will be energetic in protecting federal as well as state interests. If that sort of balance is struck, a win-win can be achieved.
  • The Obama Administration and legalizing states should take advantage of a provision of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to hammer out clear, contractual cooperation agreements so that state-regulated marijuana businesses will know what they can and cannot safely do.
  • The time for presidential leadership on marijuana policy is now. The CSA also gives the administration ample leverage to insist that the legalizing states take care to protect the federal interests noted above.

Stuart also surveys (1) what legalizing states can and cannot do without violating federal law; (2) the Obama’s administration’s approach to medical marijuana and; (3) current marijuana law at the federal level and in Colorado and Washington State.


17 thoughts

  1. It would be wonderful if the Obama administration embraced the rational tone and content of Mr. Taylor’s analysis and engaged the states in that spirit. However, there’s something about marijuana that scares the bejeezus out of Washington. Maybe it’s a lingering association with the anti-establishment 60’s, a fear of hippies, coupled with entrenched misinformation from yellow journalism of the 30’s, reefer madness–or maybe it’s the depth of financial dependency of federal agencies and law enforcement country-wide on drug war funding–or maybe some combination of these and other factors too numerous to mention. Whatever the reasons for federal paranoia about all things cannabis and stubborn refusal to consider a re-think of marijuana prohibition, the public is against them now and it’s time for more than incremental change. Somehow, I’m not optimistic. I think Washington will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into this arena of rational reform by steadily increasing public rejection of marijuana prohibition.

  2. The paragraph makes a very good point…if the Feds crack down on legal marijuana shops in CO and WA, then that is going to create a huge problem. Marijuana consumption will still be legal, so those who would normally abstain from fear of prosecution would still continue to smoke. However they would get their marijuana from black market sources.

  3. I accept that any bullying or posturing by the “feds” will not be taken well at all by people who dutifully vote and believe in the system, and where in this decades long charade of “concern” for public safety from “dangerous” cannabis is revealed as a scheme by Nixon to start the CSA drug war.

    War is highly desireable to the federal reserve board (who lends mloney to the government and so controls the money supply, while reaping the interest, and loving the ridiculous legislation that allowed this arrangement for the obscenely wealthy to lend money to the USA? The wealthiest country in the world gets its money from the 1%ers and very wealthy foreign nationals, all anonymous.

    Those individuals profit more during war because the govt abruptly borrows an enormous amount of money from the fed to “retaliate” against some false-flag outrage to drag us into war (the Lusitania (WWI), Pearl Harbor(WWII), The Gulf of Tonkin(Vietnam), 9/11 and lies about yellow cake Ur(Iraq/Afghanistan).

    9/11 was a controlled demolition of 3 WTC bldgs. One of them (#7) was never hit by a plane, it just collapsed around 4pm by itself at free-fall speed. And whatever hit the Pentagon was not an airliner with wings and a tail, but what could only be, a round rocket that left a round hole.

    The anonymous members of the federal reserve (no federal, not a part of our system of government at all, members who may not even be American) love the War on Drugs too, which has cost a trillion so far and also further continues growing the division between the very wealthy and the rest, the diminishing middle class and the poor…who spend about 30% of our income on federal taxes to support broken government ruled by the interests and corporations themselves. This while only paying a mere fraction of the interest on the debt to the federal reserve.

    Only the an organization such as that could simply rig wars for profit and maintain the cannabis prohibition, as baseless and insultingly fraudulent as a means to “protect” the public.

  4. What are feds? They’re government workers. Government employees.

    What are states? The states are the people themselves, when organized, and not political borders drawn on maps.

    The Feds versus the States =

    Government workers vs. the American People.

    Isn’t it an absurdity? It’s like a pro wrestling match, it’s fantasy.

    Government employees who are American vs. Everyone Else who is American.

    And ‘everyone else’ incidentally, are those who provide the revenue to make their govt. paychecks possible. But we all know they make the really big bucks by making under the table deals. Quid pro quo.

    The power of government is a facade. We have become accustomed and desensitized to a skewed version of authority, not as the founding fathers would have envisioned the duty and integrity that is necessary of those placed in positions of authority by the electorate. People give the government legitimacy. Just like the church did so for the monarch, and so the serfdom simply lived under the oppression of both.

    We people give legitimacy to the government because it is supposed to be there to serve us, support us. Instead of say, bailing out the banks which will eventually collapse anyway, from greed and stupidity.

    Why do government workers turn to oppression and terrorism of law-abiding citizens for possessing, enjoying, or treating their illnesses or improving their chronic conditions with dried flowers?

    It must be concern?


  5. There is no doubt in my mind that the people comprising this think tank are a great deal smarter than the average politician. So, the politicians really should listen very carefully; if they are at least smart enough to do so… We’ll see…

  6. Jimmy’s comment that Prohibition should be seen primarily as an industry, reaping loads of money for the involved, is excellent. A tsunami of decent and rational analysis of cannabis prohibition has long ago flooded the mythical rationalisations of the other side. So accept it: Prohibition is the struggle for money, privilege,status and (superb) employment of a monopolistic industry.That industry will use anything from buying ‘science’ to senators to stay on top in this game.

  7. I wonder if the Rand Corporation ever put back online their study that showed medical marijuana dispensaries did not increase levels of crime.

  8. These recommendations are reasonable and practical. I hope that at least a few in DC have the common sense to see the wisdom suggested here.

  9. On the website the Presidents administration promises a response if any petition reaches 100000 signatories. The legalization issue has 100,000 plus. Do they respond…a copy and pasted answer by a Whitehouse flunky. FIGHT ON BROTHERS…FIGHT ON.

  10. These sound like the recommendations of a real think tank, a refreshing alternative to the ideological, anti-science rants from ‘think tanks’ like the Heritage Foundation.

  11. The gig is up DEA director Michelle Leonhart. Surrender and compromise Attorney General Holder. Americans know the ugly truth about the Controlled Substance Act and the wars our enforcement agencies are instigating and profiting from. One thing pains me about this analysis. States rights would merely protect domestic abuse of the unconstitutional C.S.Act by preventing asset forfeitures and domestic legislation from cops; the Drug Enforcement Agency. But what about the 2.5 billion dollars Obama just approved for international drug enforcement? The same amount budgeted for drug treatment? So this study, however cordial in its analysis, insults our voting intelligence by suggesting we Americans don’t know that every enforcement agency in our government is running around the world providing weapons at our tax payer expense… To provoke wars our men and women in the military have to mop up and die for so some evil corporation like Haliburton can get rich on with all the “clean up” war contracts.
    The CIA and the DEA are making billions in Afhganistan in the name of anti_terrorism and freedom yet they ARE the terrorists. Providing weapons to both sides in Mexico, Afghanistan and every conflict the Drug policy budget gets involved in is unacceptable and unconsciounably evil. Selling weapons to both sides of civil conflict makes our United States government no better than the Russian government selling guns and helicopters to both sides in Syria.
    There is one point I agree on with the Brookings analysis: greed will destroy any chance of compromise on this deal. I mean really, were talking about expecting Michelle Leonhart to be rational after she testified before Congress that marijuana isn’t a medicine. The Controlled Substance Act is heading for a train wreck and its taking some laundering banks, crooked politicians and corrupt enforcement agents with it. Hey, maybe the DEA can stick around to work for customs to regulate a booming marijuana medicine and industrial hemp economy?

  12. This Thimk Tank is off the Chain, I m still in AWE!

    Believe me, they have the Peoples Intrest at Heart. Which is badly needed in Leadership, when it comes to designing a space for a Natural Cannabis Sustaince, that makes-up, and is a natural element in the Spiritual, physical universe for the use of spiritual / physical men, women, children, and Pets.

  13. When the Animals got sick, they went and found, in the fields, the herbs needed to heal did natiral man..we are still those Representives..We are ALl .Holy Dirt..which makes up all there is of this universe.

    When humans get sick they run to the Doctor’s..they forget, we have abandoned the fields created for us in the first place..because of a stone facelift,…Do something to useful make her beautiful she can Bless us…with her Big Beautiful BUDS for Healing our World, our Planet, Our Universe! Be Grateful to YeHuShua! We can do nothing on our own without Yeshua!

  14. We need a Patients, Doctor’s, Growers Association
    (East Coast).

    Reseaech, New Job Opportunities, New Business Relations, New Product Development!

    Not to mention there is a BOND between Patients, Doctors, and Growers..for the right Lables, on contents, and strength of the Cannabis Medicines. Free from Contamination; even Peoples hairs; free from molds mildew, parasites,and other TRASH!

  15. Why is the option to simply allow the states to manage marijuana so hard to address? Isn’t it the realm of the states to manage medicine, by federalism? If it weren’t so sad to see the corrupt, lying tyrannical policy makers, elected officials, enforcement arms and judiciary wrangle with the question of how states rights should be best oppressed and individual liberties should be denied, it would be humorous.

  16. If we could band together in co-op style communities taking care of one another we just might remember how we use to live. Marijuana communities should be allowed to advertise their existence so we know where they are and directions on how to drive to them and join. If I knew where one was I would pack up and move today. But, prohibition as to end first, so that we can gather without being harassed.

  17. It is definitely a good idea for the Federal Government to respect the policies of the states in this regard, because it is the states that must deal with the aftermath of poor drug control policies. The idea behind current enforcement policy is that if drug offenders are removed from the neighborhood, then the people will be safe to walk the streets and the children can return to the playgrounds, but evidence suggests this may not be the case. The collateral damage from this policy comes from the fact that a lot of those who are arrested from the community are part of a support network for others. It does not truly help a community to remove a father and sole breadwinner from a family, even if he is a drug user. What’s worse is the fact that those who are removed are only returned to that community later, usually in a state where they are even less able to provide for their families with an honest living. Felons are not allowed to take part in many government assistance programs, making it harder to get back on their feet. Furthermore, the majority of businesses will not hire those with criminal backgrounds. In a situation with very limited options, a person may well imagine that they have no choice but to go back to selling drugs. If even a fraction of the money that was used to prosecute and imprison them had been used to help them find adequate education and employment in the first place, the crime might never had existed.

    Ultimately, the person who has to deal with the mess should have the right to decide how to clean it up, and that’s the state, not the Federal government.

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