Former Obama drug policy adviser predicts weed war if states legalize

By Stephen C. Webster
Sunday, November 4, 2012 20:19 EDT
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A marijuana plant. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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The Obama administration will not just sit by and watch as up to three states attempt to implement laws legalizing marijuana, one of the president’s former senior drug policy advisers predicted Sunday.

Officially, the Obama administration hasn’t said how it will react if three states legalize marijuana this week, but Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, who spent three years as a senior adviser to Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, thinks he knows.

Speaking to NBC News for a report published Sunday, Sabet warned that voters in Colorado, Washington and Oregon may just bring fire and brimstone down on their heads if they vote for ballot measures that would legalize marijuana under state law.

“Once these states actually try to implement these laws, we will see an effort by the feds to shut it down,” he reportedly said. “We can only guess now what exactly that would look like. But the recent U.S. Attorney actions against medical marijuana portends an aggressive effort to stop state-sponsored growing and selling at the outset.”

Despite the president’s prior support for decriminalization, Obama has cracked down harder on medical marijuana than any president to come before him. In the 17 states where medical marijuana is legal, U.S. Attorneys have enlisted the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to take down hundreds of pot shops in just a few short years.

“The question voters should be asking themselves before voting on these initiatives is this: Is your right to buy pot from a store down the street worth the risk of increased teenage drug abuse, increased enforcement action by the feds, and increased problems like ‘stoned driving?’” Sabet said.

However, it’s not clear that voters will see these potential downsides as outweighing reasons supporters give for legalization, including millions in new tax revenues and vast savings on law enforcement, along with a potential reduction in violence associated with criminal gangs that control the black markets where illegal drugs are sold.

It’s also not clear that legalization would lead to increases in drugged driving accidents — in fact, two professors who examined that question in 2011 found that accidents actually decreased (PDF) in states that legalized medical marijuana.

Supporters also point to similar data that shows teenage drug use went down in Colorado after the state legalized medical marijuana, arguing that requiring an identification to buy the drug is a more effective control than outright prohibition.

Whether any of these arguments will be enough to sway voters remains anyone’s guess, but with only two days remaining before the election, it won’t be long before we find out.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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