But then, last year, the administration issued the Cole memo (these things are named after the deputy attorneys-general who draft them). It seemed, in dense verbiage, to suggest that the Ogden memo had been misunderstood, and that federal prosecutors should indeed go after the cannabis trade, especially if they suspect that serious money is being made.
The overall effect has been to confuse everybody and leave matters entirely at the discretion of individual prosecutors. Thus there are few signs of federal aggression in New Mexico, Rhode Island or Vermont, for instance. Rather, the crackdown appears to be occurring in just six federal districts—the four in California, and those in Montana and Colorado.
To Ethan Nadelmann, the head of the Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbies for an end to the failed “war on drugs”, this suggests that six federal prosecutors may be acting on their own, perhaps even in conflict with the Obama administration. The president, in this scenario, is too afraid to touch anything that looks soft on drugs in an election year and stands weakly by.
States do not like it. Democratic and Republican legislators from five medical-marijuana states have written an open letter to Barack Obama to end the “chaos” and leave this matter to the states. Christine Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee, governors of Washington state and Rhode Island, have asked the federal government to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug (like heroin, say) to a Schedule II drug (like morphine) so that doctors can at least prescribe it safely in certain circumstances. Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and have joined in the request. Ms Gregoire has already found herself having to veto a medical-marijuana bill she supports for fear that her state employees may be indicted by federal prosecutors. To all the good reasons for drug reform can now be added this classically conservative one: states’ rights.