Minority of One blog

The feds back off on marijuana

When he ran for president, Barack Obama upheld the hypocritical tradition of politicians vowing to uphold laws that would have sent them to jail in their younger days. Like George W. Bush, Al Gore and Bill Clinton, he smoked weed. Like them, he pledged not to relax laws making its use a crime.

But finally, there is a glimmer of hope from this White House. The Justice Department announced Thursday it will not interfere with the choice of Washington and Colorado to legalize recreational use of marijuana. The drug remains illegal under federal law, and the feds will still go after criminal gangs that sell it and anyone who sells to minors. But it will give states some latitude to regulate pot instead of banning it.

This is an important step, because it will allow these "laboratories of democracy" to show how the country might move away from the failed policy of Prohibition. It preserves federal law, while respecting the traditional responsibility of the states over minor crimes.

How will that work out? Probably pretty well. Sixteen states have already decriminalized cannabis, with no apparent regrets. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron looked at the data from these states and other countries and found "no indication that marijuana decriminalization causes increased marijuana use."

The new Justice Department policy is a victory for individual freedom, federalism and common sense. Obama was slow to change federal policy on marijuana. But he finally took a big step in the right direction.

CHICAGO

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