The Marijuana Lottery
This morning I read a piece in the Arizona Republic about the County Attorney joining the state's request for a declaratory judgment on medical marijuana. I then made the mistake of reading some of the reader's comments. It is amazing to me that many of these people would put their total lack of critical thinking skills out there for all to see.
One of the complaints is that this only appears to be a problem for Arizona and not for other states. For these commenters this is a clear indication that politicians in the state are illegally impeding the will of the people. After all, a state referendum passed making medical marijuana legal in state law. It appears to be lost on these folks that in Arizona we are still subject to federal law.
The controversy occurs because the US Attorney for the state of Arizona (not California, not New Mexico, not Montana, but for Arizona) has sent more than one letter to state officials noting that although they don't anticipate prosecuting anyone for using medical marijuana, they (meaning the US Attorney General's Office) reserve the right to prosecute under federal law. (The federal law is the Controlled Substances Act also referred to as the CSA.)
The New Times has an article that describes the problem fairly succinctly:
Go ahead, the feds say, invest your hundreds of thousands of dollars in a medical weed-related business. Maybe you'll be a millionaire, or maybe you'll end up serving a few years behind bars. But whether you'll get the prize or prison will be based on a whim. Your operation may be too "large," while someone else's may be just right.
One of the great things about the New Times article is that it also provides a copy of the actual letter sent to the Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. Go read it for yourself, don't depend on what others say about it.
Attorneys seem to think that one of their responsibilities is to keep their clients from running afoul of the law - local, state and federal. Given that the prosecutor of Federal law in Arizona has said in writing more than once that he might prosecute anyone helping set up and run a medical marijuana dispensary, I can understand why the attorney for both the state and the county would ask for some clarification from the court. I also understand why they wouldn't want anyone they represent to do anything in the meantime.
There is an economic principle involved here. As economists we know that uncertainty about costs and revenues stifles business investment. Jail is a rather large potential cost as is forfeiture of assets and other types of civil penalties. (See US Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke's letter.)
So, we're going to get less investment and less economic activity until the uncertainty goes away.