An expert on marijuna policy expects U.S. policy on Washington and Colorado's legalization of the drug to remain muddled -- leaving sellers uncertain and constantly vulnerable to selective federal enforcement.
But it doesn't have to be that way, he said.
Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles and Washington's lead consultant on marijuana, suggests Thursday in an independently released paper that the U.S. Department of Justice could instead enter into contracts with the states.
The DOJ could promise not to bust state-licensed businesses in return for a state pledge to crack down on illegal growing, Kleiman wrote. The partnership would rely on federal drug laws that allow for contracts with states on drug enforcement.
"I think that authorizes the AG to essentially enter into treaties with Colorado and Washington," Kleiman told reporters Wednesday. "That's messy, but I think it's workable. It would prevent flooding the country with cheap pot."
Kleiman worries about that flood of pot from Washington and Colorado to other states because local law enforcement have little incentive to curb black-market growing and the federal government has too few resources to do so -- only 4,000 drug enforcement agents nationwide, he said.
Kleiman is the lead consultant for Washington on implementing Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana. But he wrote the paper independently for the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis.
The paper also puts forward another option, that Congress could pass a law allowing state legalization under certain conditions. But Kleiman acknowledged there's no way that would happen in the current Congress.
It may also seem unlikely that the Department of Justice would condone marijuana legalization, but the agency has stayed silent about what it will actually do.
The website Talking Points Memo on Wednesday quoted Colorado officials who interpret DOJ's silence as "tacit approval."
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who briefed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in January about Washington's experiment, told reporters he wouldn't describe it as tacit approval, and said he continues to prepare for the worst-case possibility of a court fight with the federal government.
Ferguson said in an interview later he is open to any idea that might allow I-502 to move forward -- including Kleiman's idea on contracts.
"I'm aware of that option," Ferguson said, "and it is something we are more than willing to explore."
Read Kleiman's paper: