Cultural Revolutions

High on Federalism

As the New Year rolled in, lines formed at Colorado pot shops.  Some customers seeking to secure their first legal purchase of Mary Jane had to wait several hours.  Once they made it into the shops they were struck by sticker shock: Top-shelf marijuana (not Mexican ragweed) was going for $400 per ounce.  Of course, the pot dispensaries were not the only ones doing a booming business.  Colorado Green Tours, an outfit that buses visitors to the various dispensaries, described itself as being deluged by “a tidal wave of business.”

Even the federal government has stepped aside and allowed the pot sales.  Under the Controlled Substances Act, the sales in Colorado violate federal law.  However, Attorney General Eric Holder has given word to states legalizing recreational marijuana that federal law enforcement will look the other way, so long as the states carefully regulate the production, processing, and sale of weed.

In some ways, the legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington (which is running behind on crafting and implementing its regulations) are substantial victories for federalism.  These states actually succeeded in persuading the federal government to back off the enforcement of a national regulatory regime that has been upheld in the Supreme Court as recently as 2005.

There is recognition that divergent local cultures...

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