Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
The elected leaders of the nation's largest cities are arguing for the right to "set whatever marijuana policies work best" for them.
Cities in Colorado and Washington have been in a particularly awkward spot since last fall, when voters in those two states elected to legalize recreational marijuana. Local officials and city councils have been scurrying to figure out how to implement the new regulations (our favorite idea: Aurora, Colorado, actually considered becoming its own marijuana grower and dispensary). But all the while, the Obama Administration has remained coy about how far it will let local governments go in flouting federal law.
Now the U.S. Conference of Mayors is begging Obama to leave them alone. At their annual meeting taking place now in Las Vegas, the mayors – among them Republicans and Democrats – unanimously adopted a resolution arguing that "states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana policies work best to improve the public safety and health of their communities." The mayors also came out for amending federal law to explicitly allow states to craft their own marijuana policy. And they're asking Obama in the meantime not to waste federal law enforcement resources trying to undermine the will of their voters.
The Conference of Mayors has been inching up to this position for several years. Two years ago, the group adopted a separate resolution declaring the war on drugs a failure. And the mayors had previously come out in support of medical marijuana. Today's resolution was co-sponsored by the top elected officials of a number of big U.S. cities: San Diego's Bob Filner, Seattle's Mike McGinn, Las Vegas' Carolyn Goodman, and Oakland's Jean Quan, along with a dozen others.
Their argument is pretty convincing: The money everyone is wasting policing marijuana could be better spent on things cities really need (and problems they actually have). They cite the rise of drug cartels that make a majority of their profit off marijuana, by some estimates. And the resolution points out that while sales and use of marijuana are similar across racial and ethnic groups, minorities are "arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated at higher rates and for longer periods of time."
The mayors are applying pressure just as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been hinting, yet again, that he'll come out with a policy "relatively soon." The mayors are up against some serious competition for Holder's ear. On the other side of the argument: eight former heads of the Drug Enforcement Agency... and the United Nations.
Top image of the state capitol in downtown Denver on April 20th of this year: Rick Wilking/Reuters