[Holder's threat] means that the commercialization provisions of Prop. 19 – taxation and regulation via local option – are a dead letter. Presumably the Justice Department would ask for an injunction barring any California official from issuing a license – in effect, a license to commit a federal felony – under Prop. 19, and I expect that the courts would issue such an injunction. Even if no injunction issued, any grower or retailer who filed California tax or regulatory paperwork would be confessing to a federal felony. So there wouldn’t be open commercial growing or (non-medical) sale.
That doesn’t effect the home-growing provision of Prop. 19: anyone who owns or leases property could grow one 5′x5′ plot per parcel. Since that activity will be legal under state law, state and local cops won’t be able to investigate, and there’s no way the feds have the resources to deal with 25-square-foot grows.
The big question left unresolved by Holder’s announcement is the behavior of state and local cops with respect to commercial growing and (non-medical) retailing. If no county or municipality can issue a license, that activity will remain illegal in California. If California law enforcement continues to enforce those laws vigorously, nothing much will change. If not, there’s no way to put enough Federal resources in the field to make up for the absence of state and local enforcement, and California will become the cannabis supplier to the rest of the country, and probably Canada.
Yglesias agrees with Kevin Drum that confrontation with the fed is one of Prop 19's greatest selling points:
At the end of the day there’s a real need to revisit the underlying premise that regulating the availability of a moderately unhealthy recreational substance is something that needs to be done at the federal level. Especially given that this is a country where, in practice, police authority is overwhelmingly exercised at the state and local level I think it would make a lot of sense to decentralize policymaking on this front. But Congress isn’t going to just take up the cause for no reason, only an atmosphere of crisis would prompt action.
(Image: A member of the Mexican Army stands in front of four tons of marijuana prior to being incinerated 25 January 2007 at the naval base in Topolobambo, Sinaloa State. By STR/AFP/Getty Images)