The successful margin exceeded pollsters' expectations in both states - close to 55% - and gave Obama a real mandate in the process.
Naturally the White House chose to respond with quiet caution, opening an enormous void of speculation that can be as confusing as it is helpful. A sizable portion of one argument traces back to Kevin Sabet, a former drug adviser to three U.S. administrations (including President Obama), whose reaction seemed to trickle into every story on Initiative 502 and Amendment 64. He explains that the government, "has multiple avenues. They can wait until it's implemented, take action before it's implemented, reiterate what federal law is, send warning letters."
The Justice Department has only remarked, "We are reviewing the ballot initiatives and have no additional comment at this time."
This waiting period is likely to continue for weeks, obstructing the possibility of near-term decision (an issue of this magnitude shouldn't be rushed anyway). For starters, the provisions that define the user's terms have yet to be certified into state law, giving the administration breathing room to formulate a comprehensive response. These lower-level provisions aren't expected to draw serious attention from federal agencies; their concern focuses on the states' regulatory plans, which are due in Colorado on July 1st and by 2014 in Washington. The negotiations between federal and state representatives will continue throughout these developments, leaving the public to feed on any information that falls from their table.
What's not obstructed is the general direction that Obama's administration should sail: resounding approval.
No reason exists to bar two American states from carrying out the decision of its constituents. Legalizing and taxing marijuana, if done properly, will turn a profit for the state and reduce the various expenses accrued by enforcing anti-marijuana laws (peoples under 21 remain in violation). Both Washington and Colorado intend to make a business out of marijuana, seeking to establish a licensing policy similar to alcohol regulation, and should come out modestly ahead in revenue. Due to the regulations behind this plan, the Obama administration is supposedly open (according to various insider reports) to cooperating with Washington and Colorado's officials. These sources, along with the public faces that led each state's measure, claim that the administration targeted California dispensaries because of the state's ambiguous laws, not decriminalization itself.
"The federal government could go in and arrest everybody and indict everybody for distributing marijuana," says Alison Holcomb, the campaign director for New Approach Washington. "They're not doing that."
Although individual political interests don't factor into the equation of morality, opposing two measures that are supported by a healthy majority also makes for bad politics. Counter-protests would be assured. To this end an interest in the collective will is maintained by ceding to the majority's decision, and freedom counts for more than dollar signs. For libertarian and humanitarian reasons, Washington and Colorado's populations should be spared from a federal crackdown and allowed to govern themselves as they see fit. Ruling against them declares that the federal government knows best, a false assumption that wrecks all sorts of havoc.
Or, as Michael Moore recently told Obama in an open letter, "END THE DRUG WAR. It is not only an abysmal failure, it has returned us to the days of slavery. We have locked up millions of African Americans and Latinos and now fund a private prison-industrial complex that makes billions for a few lucky rich people. There are other ways to deal with the drugs that do cause harm - ways built around a sense of decency and compassion. We look like a bunch of sadistic racists. Stop it."
Internationally, the effects of Initiative 502 and 64 fit into the international community's gradual decriminalization and the study of its results. Latin American leaders from Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica wasted no time calling for a new review of public policy, hoping to bridge the gap between America's failed drug war and the emerging reality of decriminalization. Their argument is no different from Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank's advice to the Obama administration: "allowing responsible state authorities to carry out those wishes will provide valuable information in an important national debate."
The opportunity to conduct a relatively controlled social experiment provides the foremost reason to accept Washington and Colorado's measures. This information can then be applied to other states, to Latin America and to Europe, where decriminalization of marijuana is accelerating faster than anywhere else. America and the rest of the world already know what the "War on Drugs" looks like.
Now it's time to see what an alternative looks like.