The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
DEA Chiefs to Obama: Keep Waging the War on Drugs

Eight former DEA chiefs want President Obama to keep a lid on pot. In a joint statement released on Tuesday, they urged Obama to have his administration sue Colorado and Washington over their new marijuana legalization laws:

One of the former DEA administrators, Peter Bensinger, told the AP that the more time goes by, the harder it’ll be to stop the two states. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Bensinger, who lives in the Chicago area, said the government must immediately sue the states or risk creating “a domino effect” in which other states follow suit.

If concern about a “domino effect” strikes you as overblown, check out an excellent piece in the AI by Mark Kleiman and others that explains why it’s a real problem. Legalization could increase the flow of drugs into states where it’s still illegal:

“Drug tourism” (users coming to Colorado to buy) could generate significant economic benefits, though not nearly as much as it might for an eastern state with more populous neighbors. Indeed, Colorado could make much more money selling to out-of-state dealers who could buy in bulk in Colorado to sell (illegally) in other states. The economics are compelling. Most dealers would certainly prefer to buy high-quality marijuana in Colorado for $400 per pound than pay current domestic suppliers $2,000 per pound for the same quality, or pay the same wholesale price along the southwest border for inferior grades of pot. [...]

Likewise, although under [Colorado's Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act] marijuana stores are supposed to sell only to “consumers” (defined as adults who will not resell) there is no mechanism for verifying that, and the potential tax revenues might give Colorado state officials an incentive not to be particularly fastidious.

Read the whole piece for more on how these dynamics would play out. Easing drug laws to lock up fewer non-violent people is on the whole a good thing, and pot is a less problematic drug than many others, but the fact remains that the marijuana lobby is rather too sanguine about the consequences of legalization.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the pot legislation crusade is not the simplistic and naive viewpoint advocates often adopt, but rather how it speaks to the contradictory impulses in American life. There’s something addled about wanting to legalize certain drugs while zealously pursuing the prohibition of giant size sodas and tobacco. Our odd mix of Puritanism and licentiousness is one of the funniest things about our great republic.

[Image of Marijuana from Shutterstock]

Published on March 5, 2013 5:30 pm