November 12th, 2012
09:02 AM ET

How will White House respond to Washington, Colorado votes?

By Shannon K. O'Neil, CFR

Editor's Note: Shannon K. O'Neil is  senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America's moment first appeared here. The views expressed are her own.

As Americans went to the polls to elect their president last week, voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize marijuana (by referendum). Not only does this create conflicting state and federal laws, but it also directly challenges the United States’ war on drugs.

These initiatives, Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington’s Initiative 502, directly conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and LSD) – deemed to have “a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.” In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would “vigorously enforce” federal laws if marijuana was legalized in California (it wasn’t). Although no official statement on Washington and Colorado has been released, the White House’s website maintains that “the Obama Administration has consistently reiterated its firm opposition to any form of drug legalization.”

If these legalizations stand, it would mean big changes for the U.S. marijuana market. According to a 2010 RAND report, prices would drop dramatically. Consumption would also likely increase – the report estimates that for every 10 percent decrease in price, the number of consumers would rise by 3 percent.

Legalization would also have repercussions for U.S. foreign policy, and especially for U.S.-Mexico relations. A recent Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad A.C. (IMCO) report by Alejandro Hope and Eduardo Clark estimates that legalization in each state would reduce cartels’ profits by 20 to 30 percent. This revenue drop would change the business models for many organized crime groups, especially those who rely more heavily on marijuana (such as the Sinaloa cartel). But these shifts don’t necessarily portend a decline in violence, especially if the marijuana business is replaced by stepped up robbery, kidnapping, and extortion.

Even if the Colorado and Washington legalizations are delayed and/or ultimately struck down, they may change the conversation surrounding the international drug-control regime. The sitting presidents of Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala, along with many past presidents of Latin American countries have strongly questioned the current approach to drugs, and have asked for an international evaluation and studies through the OAS and the United Nations. If a groundswell in the United States does the same (at least for marijuana), the political pressure could perhaps spur the federal government to rethink its approach.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Drugs

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. 100 % ETHIO

    This is UNCHRISTIAN and IMBALANCE Satanic opportunity, attempted by few bad people (Ethnic groups), to damage the good images of US and to fuelled more Drug dealers who are going to recruit Young and innocent Kids. These also leads Americans to drop-out Schools and Can not get jobs where Drug screening is mandatory.

    As we seen around here in U.S and in Canada, the Jewish populations are fewer than other ethnic groups. But, the damaged they caused and the HIV/AIDS illnesses they spread are enormous.
    These has been proven and the experiments are affirmed at the past, although some Jewish sticking with their traditional habit called, DENIAL.

    November 12, 2012 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • smartypants

      kill yourself

      November 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • Free English Translations

      Did you write this in your non-English native language and then run it through an English translator? That's the only explanation that I can think of for such horrible spelling and grammar. Perhaps if you were to smoke a doobie and then re-submit your answer, it might be more legible?

      November 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • TheRey

      Where did AIDS come from? Your only good point, may have been drug screening

      November 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  2. General Sherman

    What the federal government needs to do is to legalize marihuana for medical purposes only. With some people, legalizing marihana for recreational purposes may well lead to the use of hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines which should in no way be legalized. Moreover, instead of enforcing some stupid law like the Helms-Burton Act, the FBI needs to focus more on the drug war!

    November 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
    • Larry

      Haha, the "weed is a gateway drug" fallacy is laughably outdated. How does weed lead to "hard drug" use any more than alcohol or tobacco?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Agreed, General Sherman. The Helms-Burton Law while serving no useful purpose whatsoever is no mre than a gigantic waste of taxpayer money and federal manpower!

      November 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply

      Wow, focus more on the drug war.... you are one of the scared sheep that will be the end of the United States.

      November 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Reply
    • Bear

      Please read this and educate yourself. You need to do some research about what marijuana's effects actually are.

      November 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  3. Larry

    Weed is how the Democrats are going to carry the youth vote in every election from here on out. I doubt they will squander their opportunity by trying to thwart this.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Agreed, Larry. These unscrupulous politicians in Washington stop at nothing to get votes!

      November 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply

      Except for whatever reason small government and state's rights are what the GOP claims to be for.

      November 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Reply
    • Jared


      One issue with your statement. The Obama administration, which the last time I checked is part of the Democratic Party, has issued statements that they will oppose legalization of any drug. It was even in this article, and many more.

      So, sorry to burst your bubble, but your statement is false. Perhaps you should read the article, then post a comment?

      November 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
      • Larry

        Jared: The Obama administration, and every administration before his, plays it safe and drifts towards the center in their first term. They keep the status quo, and never double down on large social issues, because they are always concerned with their re-election (IE holding off his support for gay marriage as long as possible). They don't want to seem too liberal (or too conservative for Republican administrations) and risk scaring off moderate voters. With the election out of the way, it is now in the Democrat's own political interest to support legalization, because it is what their base wants and it is how they are going to mobilize voters.

        Perhaps you should take politics into consideration, and not take a politician's statements at face value?

        November 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  4. mtotheo

    The only reason it is a gateway drug is because you have to get it from a DRUG DEALER. "Oh, you want some weed? Ok, here you go. By the way, I have some coke and some mushrooms too, want to try them?"

    Take a way the pot dealer and people have to go STRAIGHT to the hard drugs, which is a lot less likely.

    November 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    If legalisation of marijuana would reduce street crime, go ahead! Actions have to be taken to eradicate illegal drug trade. But if these gangsters can't deal with drugs anymore, they will focus on something else. So at the end of the day, it's a social problem.

    November 13, 2012 at 4:44 am | Reply
    • Bear

      It's already much more of a social problem now than it would be if it were legal and regulated.

      "In study after study, teens say it is easier to get marijuana than alcohol or tobacco. A 2009 study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 40% of teens (12-17 year olds) surveyed could get pot within 24 hours, and another 25% could get it within an hour. In a survey done of law enforcement officials in Napa County, California, 62% of those surveyed said that they have come across marijuana at teen parties, and 82% said marijuana use was a moderate to severe problem, stating that they see it more than any other issues at teen parties. Legalization would place requirements on obtaining marijuana, just like alcohol and tobacco."


      November 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  6. Freeman Blaze

    Prohibition didn't work then. The war on drugs doesn't work today. Stop trying to legislate morality and how people entertain themselves. Legalize, pot and cocaine. Then regulate it and tax it. Deprive the organize narcoterrorists and American organized crime of their life blood and keep prices "affordable". Us the tax revue for health care the addicts will need it. Think of it as self funding delayed health care.

    November 13, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  7. Hahahahhahaha

    The White House should respond by taking in a good long inhale and then slowly exhaling. Then order pizza and get some work done!!!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahahahahah

    November 14, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
  8. In Home Personal Training

    Of course the federal government is going to rethink its approach. This is going to make so much money for the state. The gov't will see this and realize if they allow this to happen in a couple other states they will be able to support other projects with the tax money.

    April 15, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Reply

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