Eight former Drug Enforcement Administration directors sent a letter asking the Obama administration to nullify the marijuana legalization laws voters recently approved in Washington State and Colorado. Not surprisingly, a bunch of people who have made very successful careers around fighting the drug war want to make sure the drug war continues.

These former DEA directors are clearly in the minority when it comes to public opinion. Polling has found that the vast majority of Americans think marijuana law should be a states’ rights issue and the federal government should let these two states enact their new laws.

While strongly disagreeing with the former directors’ position on the issue, I do share their analysis about how incredibly important the next few months are for the future of marijuana legalization. From the Washington Post:

One of the former DEA administrators, Peter Bensinger, told The Associated Press the day before that the more time that goes by, the harder it’ll be to stop the two states. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Bensinger, who lives in the Chicago area, said the government must immediately sue the states or risk creating “a domino effect” in which other states follow suit.

“My fear is that the Justice Department will do what they are doing now: do nothing and say nothing,” said Bensinger. “If they don’t act now, these laws will be fully implemented in a matter of months.”

If Obama aggressively tries to stop Colorado and Washington from implementing their new laws it would be a significant setback to the marijuana reform movement. It won’t stop the rapid change in public opinion about the issue, but as long as Obama was in office it would make it harder to convince other states to adopt similar laws. If, on the other hand, the administration takes a more hands-off approach, it would create an opportunity to prove legalization can work, making it easier to spread the reform to other states in the near future.

Photo by marijuana2007b under Creative Commons license.