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Could Feds and States Contract Over Pot?

The states and the feds, partners in pot? That’s the vision of one California professor who believes the two warring entities could make peace and pave the way for regulated marijuana.

In a paper written for the Journal of Drug Policy and Analysis, Mark Kleiman, professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles, argues that states with legalized marijuana may be able to reach deals with the feds that allow them to safely regulate weed.

Kleiman, who is also Washington State’s chief marijuana consultant, suggests the two sides could arrange a mutually beneficial contract. On the one side, the federal government would agree not to crack down on state-sanctioned pot providers. On the other, the states would agree to vigorously police illegal growers.

The deal would give states what they want: a safe, legal cannabis market. And it would give the feds something they want: a check against the cheap pot that might flood other states once legalization takes full effect in Washington and Colorado (and whatever other states come next).

The partnership would work because of marijuana laws that allow the federal government to contract with the states for drug enforcement.

“I think that authorizes the (attorney general) to essentially enter into treaties with Colorado and Washington,” Kleiman said. “That’s messy, but I think it’s workable. It would prevent flooding the country with cheap pot.”

Mark Kleiman
Mark Kleiman

Kleiman said federal authorities have reason to want to encourage states to crack down on illegal production. There’s little incentive for local police to do so on their own, and the feds don’t have anything approaching the manpower they’d need to do the job themselves.

Kleiman also suggested that Congress could pass a law allowing legalization under certain conditions – though there’s zero chance of that happening anytime soon.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he was “aware” of Kleiman’s suggestion. “It is something we are more than willing to explore,” he said.

Voters in Washington and Colorado became the first in the nation to legalize all adult weed use in November 2012. The time since that vote has been spent drafting rules for the new marijuana regulatory schemes in both states.legalbooks

In the meantime, the federal government has remained silent about its intentions. On the one extreme, federal law enforcement could crack down on recreational pot across the board in Washington and Colorado, closing down every retail shop and grower. On the other, they could simply stand by and let the states have their way.

Or they could take a middle path, as some expect, and go after the big players while leaving the smaller producers and sellers – and the users – alone. So far, no one knows.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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